Worlds apart? Testing the cultural distance hypothesis in music perception of Chinese and Western listeners

Mathias Klarlund*, Elvira Brattico, Marcus Pearce, Yiyang Wu, Peter Vuust, Morten Overgaard, Yi Du

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review


According to the cultural distance hypothesis (CDH), individuals learn culture-specific statistical structures in music as internal stylistic models and use these models in predictive processing of music, with musical structures closer to their home culture being easier to predict. This cultural distance effect may be affected by domain-specific (musical ability) and domain-general individual characteristics (openness, implicit cultural bias). To test the CDH and its modulation by individual characteristics, we recruited Chinese and Western adults to categorize stylistically ambiguous and unambiguous Chinese and Western melodies by cultural origin. Categorization performance was better for unambiguous (low CD) than ambiguous melodies (high CD), and for in-culture melodies regardless of ambiguity for both groups, providing evidence for CDH. Musical ability, but not other traits, correlated positively with melody categorization, suggesting that musical ability refines internal stylistic models. Therefore, both cultures show musical enculturation in their home culture with a modulatory effect of individual musical ability.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105405
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • Cultural distance
  • Enculturation
  • Music perception
  • Predictive coding


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