Nature-based events that incorporate musicBy Chad Clifford
This article is a shortened version of my graduate thesis–completed at the University of Alberta.
I used a generic html converter to create this page–hence, the titles and format are not ideal.
This phenomenological study explores the emotional experience of playing a musical instrument during a nature-based leisure event. Data was collected from ten participants through either interviews or written accounts. The instruments participantsí played included guitar, singing, fife, fiddle, harmonica, and the wooden flute. The setting varied from urban parks to remote national parks on outings ranging in duration from an hour to over a week.
My findings revealed five topic areas common to the experience of playing an musical instrument during a nature-based leisure event: escape and change as a motivation for visits to natural areas; music as a means to focus sensory attention; the combined effect of playing music in a natural setting: something more than the composite parts; music as a way of connecting to nature; and contentment and appreciation. This study offers an insightful and descriptive account of these little understood topics.
Playing music during a nature-based leisure event powerfully altered/enhanced the emotions of participantsí in a positive direction. Therefore, it can be stated this activity created a positive nature experience among participants. Such experiences are valuable for the creation of emotional attachments to natural areas, which is believed to lead to pro-environmental behaviours.
Among people who practice proactive environmental behaviors, Grob (1995) found that, within his model of environmental behaviour, the most effective components stemmed from peopleís philosophical values (i.e., post-materialism and open-mindedness) and emotions (i.e., emotional response to environmental issues). Interestingly, environmental awareness (i.e., knowledge and recognition of the issues) was not vital for pro-environmental behaviors.
Grobís (1995) findings are echoed by others. For example, Ken Deacon, active environmentalist and biologist, believes: ìPeople do not need to know more, they need to care moreÖ people have been exposed to the issuesî (personal communication, March, 1997). Similarly, Stephen J. Gould (1991) also believes that people will not destroy what they love arguing that emotional bonds to species and the natural environment are needed for their survival. Finally, Tom Brown Jr., outdoor skills instructor and author of numerous wilderness philosophy and wilderness field guides, also believes that people need to experience the wilderness to develop attachments and behaviors that act to create ìenvironmental warriorsî (personal communication, 1992).
If people with emotional attachments to the natural environment are more likely to possess pro-environmental behaviors, knowing how their emotional attachment is formed and maintained is of fundamental importance. As well, creating opportunities for more people to develop such attachments would help to curb the rapid degradation of natural ecosystems. The obvious place to develop and study emotional connections to the natural environment is in the natural environment and in nature-based leisure research.
One activity yet to be explored in nature-based leisure research is playing a music instrument. The effect of music in other areas of research has been established and suggests that music may intensify and even dictate the emotions felt in certain contexts, which could include a natural setting. Hence, playing a musical instrument may act as a trigger for developing positive nature experiences leading to an emotional attachment to nature.
In light of this, the purpose of this study is to explore the lived experience of people who have utilized a musical instrument during a nature-based leisure event. In so doing, I hope to learn more about how people connect to the natural environment in powerful and meaningful ways. Thus, my research question is: What is the emotional experience of a nature-based leisure event that incorporates (live) music?
In my search of literature pertaining to music during a nature-based leisure event, I was unable to find any study that involved nature and music. The closest I came to finding information on this topic were studies concerned with the interaction of music and viewing paintings. Surprisingly, I also found little literature pertaining to emotions and the natural environment in nature-based leisure research. Hence, my literature review centres on a discussion of emotion, music and emotion, and the natural environment and emotion.
There is nothing tangible about an emotion; no one area in our brain is specifically associated with emotions, and no universal definition of emotion. Therefore, the first step in understanding emotion is to determine what we mean by it. The Oxford Concise English Dictionary (Pearsall, 1999) describes an emotion as a strong feeling distinct from reasoning (p. 466); describes a feeling as an emotional state (p. 520); and describes being emotional as showing an intense feeling or as arousing (p. 466). Similar to the dictionaryís tautology, diverse fields of research do not offer a concise definition of emotion either. Moreover, there are dozens of theoretical perspectives and approximately one hundred theories on emotion (De Rivera, 1977).
Although the concept of emotion is indeed complex (Averill, 1999), it may abstractly be defined as a response to an event (Frijda, 2000), being either primary (i.e., biological) or secondary (i.e., lived experience or cognitive) in nature (White, 2000). The latter being the least understood and studied aspect of emotion (Lewis, 2000); however, the lived experience is how the average person understands the concept of emotion, and therefore, may be the most meaningful portrayal of what emotion is (Panksepp, 2000). The process of experiencing an emotion is as follows. A person (a) encounters an event or object and decides if it is threatening, pleasant or other, (b) feels a resulting emotion, such as being happy or fearful, and (c) is aware of the emotion being felt (Plutchik, 1984; Russell & Snodgrass, 1987).
Studies using various measures (e.g., self-report scales) have been utilized to develop a bipolar circumplex model of affect, which has generally been accepted among researchers (Parkinson, Totterdell, Briner & Reynolds, 1996; Plutchik, 1984; Russell, 1980, 1997; Russell & Bullock, 1985). Russell (1980) and Parkinson et al. (1996) credit Schlosberg (1952) with devising the first circumplex structure of affect.
Note. From ìA cicumplex model of affect,î by J.A. Russell, 1980, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39 (6), p. 1164.
Music philosophers seem at odds with one another as to how people really experience emotion from music. DeNora (2000) found that, when interviewed on the topic of music in daily life, people seemed to just know what they needed emotionally and, furthermore, people can self-program their music material to suit emotional needs. In an attempt to clarify how we experience emotion from music, past discussions often centred on peoplesí object of the emotion (i.e., focus of attention).
The listenerís intentional object of emotion during the music will highly influence the type of emotional response (Davies, 1994; Kivy, 1999; Levinson, 1990) and therefore a personís emotional response is difficult to predict. For instance, as freely as thoughts come and go, so do the potential objects of emotion. If our thoughts have an overall theme (e.g., sad memories) our emotion would likely be one of sadness. Conversely, if there is a combination of happy and sad memories (objects), it becomes more difficult to predict the resulting emotion in any realistic manner. Emotions may be the result of various objects including memories and objects in our surroundings.
For instance, in studies combining objects, like listening to music and viewing paintings, Limbert and Polzella (1998) and Stratton and Zalanowski (1989) found music to be a powerful intensifier of the emotion believed to be exhibited in the painting. Stratton and Zalanowski found that music actually dictated the emotion that the participants believed to be expressed by the painting. Their findings suggest that the intentional object of emotion for participants was more focused on the music than the paintings with the audible senses being more influential than visual stimuli. Limbert and Polzellís study found that when the painting was accompanied with music that matched the apparent expressed emotion in the painting, the emotion expressed in the painting was intensified. Similarly, McKinney (1990), in a study on music and imagery, found that music intensified emotions.
The source of the music may be a prominent object and the focus of the listenerís attention. For instance, the instrument used to create the music, as well as the performer, may be the focus of attention and may elicit memories and meanings associated with the instrument and its culture. For example, Qureshi (2000) found that the sarangi (an Indian musical instrument) was considered as an ìintense icon of affectî (p. 805), embedded in religious, political, cultural and social meanings. Interestingly, Qureshi describes musical sound as to ìimmediately evoke a situated experienceî (p. 810) inferring, therefore, that music as an object (and the type instrument played) may connect cognitive thoughts to specific cultures and meanings. Stokes (as cited in Qureshi) states that music is unmatched by any other social activity in doing this.
In the case where people vary their focus of attention (e.g., from music to memories, to interest, to an instrument and its culture, to their natural surroundings) the resulting emotion is the combined effect of each of the objects focussed on. Therefore, any feelings associated with each object will combine in some fashion to create an experience that is almost impossible to predict.
Aspects of the environment that affect peopleís emotions are by and large unexplored (McIntyre & Roggenbuck, 1998; Russell & Snodgrass, 1987; Staats, Gatersleben & Hartig, 1997; Ulrich, 1983).Moreover, the overall effect of the many would-be objects of emotion in a natural environment makes understanding the resulting emotion rather complex (Russell & Snodgrass, 1987). In an attempt to categorize the objects that people focus on in an natural environment, Borrie (as cited in McIntyre & Roggenbuck, 1998, p. 403) groups the objects as follows: (a) nature as place, (b) self, (c) others, (d) emotions and affect, and (e) task or activity. Of particular interest for my study are the affective qualities of the natural environment.
The features of the natural environment upon which people appraise the affective qualities of the place (i.e., the ambience) affect peopleís relationship to the environment (McIntyre & Roggenbuck, 1998; Russell & Snodgrass, 1987; Ulrich, 1983). The next section discusses the complexity of a natural area as it is related to peopleís emotional preferences. Lastly, I will discuss the descriptors used by people to describe the affective qualities of a natural environment.
Hull, Stewart, and Yi (1992) found that, as people hiked through various types of landscapes, their moods were affected. Other studies (Staats, Gatersleben & Hartigís, 1997; Ulrich, 1983)support Hull et al.ís findings, and furthermore, found that the complexity of natural landscapes is a factor related to the affective qualities of an area. Studies involving the affective aspects of a natural environment tend to group the objects of the place together. For example, objects such as the horizon or crawling insects alone are not considered apart from the overall ambience of the place. The ambience of the place is what researchers seem to equate with the complexity of the place.
Complexity in a natural environment is related to the number of independently received objects able to be seen, the relative difficulty of movement, and the difficulty of orienteering oneself (Ulrich, 1983; Staats, Gatersleben & Hartig, 1997). Complexity is also linked to the density of the area (Staats et al., 1997). For example, an open field on a hillside would be considered low in complexity (and density) because of the ease of navigating over obstacles and orienteering, thereby requiring fewer objects to be necessarily focused on. In contrast, a narrow trail through dense brush with a lot of obstructions would be considered highly complex because of the difficulty of navigation and orienteering, thereby requiring close attention to objects (e.g., fallen trees and brush to walk through and other landscape features for orienteering direction).
The complexity of an environment has also been considered in terms of the consequential emotional response, and therefore, also by dimensions of arousal and pleasantness. For instance, Staats, Gatersleben and Hartig (1997) found that when a natural landscape is complex, the levels of arousal increase and a lack of orientation decreases the pleasantness of the area. Moreover, Ulrich (1983) states that the qualities of complexity and pleasantness, together, form an inverted-U; environments that are either high or low in complexity are unpleasant. Ulrich also found that natural areas that appear to be low in complexity (e.g., a field that is easy to navigate and orientate) might even lead to boredom. Ulrich (1983) concludes that a mixed forest with some views is the most pleasing. Conversely, Rosegrant (1976) found that types of religious experiences occur when the setting is communal (e.g., a vista or area where the works of nature are visible on a large scale, such as a mountaintop or desert). In other words, areas of low complexity may evoke emotional responses as well.
In all, the degree to which the complexity of an area appears to affect people emotionally when traveling over the landscape is of issue. However, as Rosegrant (1976) found, people who are not traveling over the landscape may well find pleasure in the simplicity of a field of wildflowers, or in the vastness of deserts, oceans, and lakes. Furthermore, dense brush may also be of interest and of pleasure for those who enjoy bird watching or looking for animal signs and tracks.
Regardless of the activity, the terms that people use to describe the affective qualities of a natural environment may be the best indicator of their experience. Russell and Laniusís (1984) model (see Figure 2) illustrates the various adjectives of affect used to describe the natural environment as related to one another on a circumplex (along the dimensions of pleasantness and arousal). The terms included in the model characterize the affective appraisals of a natural environment; hence, some of the words, such as ìrepulsiveî, ìprettyî, and ìmonotonousî may not sound like adjectives of emotion. However, these descriptors of affect offer an insightful view of the structure of an experienced emotion for researchers who need to interpret the meanings of such terms (or related ones) when used by participants.
Figure 2.Descriptors of affective qualities of places.
In the literature review, the relationship between emotion and the experiences of being in the natural environment and of listening to music were both considered. In further support of considering emotion in research, Denzin (1984) believes that the study of emotionality should reside fundamentally in all human disciplines. The phenomenological method is particularly suitable for studies involving the experience of emotion because uncovered meanings of a phenomenon remain closely linked to the lived experience, which is recounted through thick descriptions (Denzin). Hence, after reading the phenomenological account, a person should better understand how the phenomenon is experienced.
Amongst various possible data analysis procedures, I chose to base mine on Moustakasí (1994, p.121-122) approach: (a) researcher first offers her/his own experience, and then (b) from verbatim transcripts, considers each statement and its relevance to the experience, (c) lists all relevant statements, (d) deletes any repetitive statements, thereby leaving the invariant horizons or meaning units, (e) clusters the meaning units into themes, (f) describes the textural experience by synthesizing meaning units and themes (including verbatim examples), (g) develops structures of the experience through imaginative variation, (h) constructs a textural-structural description of the essences and meanings of the experience, (i) repeats steps b through h for each participant in the study, and lastly, (j) synthesizes all textural-structural descriptions of the essences and meanings (i.e., step h) of the individual experiences into a universal or composite description. For the sake of clarity and parsimony, only the last stage (i.e., the synthesis) is presented here.
The emotional experience of playing a musical instrument in nature.
This study examines the meanings and essences of playing a musical instrument (or singing) during a nature-based leisure event. To do so, I have synthesized meaning units, themes, and the textural and structural descriptions of each participant into universal meanings or essences of the experience (i.e., as found applicable across participantsí experiences). There are five topic areas that represent the findings in this study: (a) escape and change as motivation for visits to natural settings; (b) music as a means to focus sensory attention; (c) the combined effect of playing music and being in nature: something more than the composite parts; (d) music as a way of connecting to nature; and (e) contentment and appreciation.
People seek the experience of a natural setting for a number of reasons. The participantsí reasons included the desire for diverse forms of escape and change. Generally, participants desired to escape from other people, that is, to find solitude for themselves or their group. For instance, one participant stated: ìwe purposelyÖcamp in an area where it is difficult to hear or see other campers.î Participantsí reasons for finding this solitude included a desire to ìbe alone inÖmisery;î to ìslow down;î to ìjust be;î ìto conceal the sound of their music;î to ìcalm down;î to spend time with family; and to enjoy the ìwonderful scenery.î Similar to experiencing an escape is experiencing a change, for instance, the change from being ìdistractedî in the ìhectic hi-tech market placeî to feeling ìpeaceî in sensing the ìatmospheric scents of the coniferous forest, sphagnum moss and the Canadian Shield.î
Without exception, the escape/change to a natural setting affected participantsí moods and thoughts. This is evident from the terms and phrases that were used to describe both place and emotion. Some terms and phrases that were used included: ìvery peaceful,î ìenjoy,î ìcalm me down,î ìmagnificent,î ìwonderful scenery,î ìfeeling of joy would well up,î and ìintegral to the experience.î Moreover, many participants described a feeling of sensing-the-moment.
A central aspect to the experience of playing music in a natural setting is linked to where one focuses his/her attention. Although this focus changes, three foci of attention stand out: the act of playing music, emotion, and the aesthetics of the natural surroundings.
The act of playing music leads one to be ìfocused on the music itself.î The reason for this focusing varies. For instance, several participants reported being preoccupied with the technique of ìgetting the timing rightî or ìfocusing only on the sound.î Another common reason for focusing attention on the music was that it sounded ìamazingî in the natural surroundings. As one participant wrote: ìI remember playing often with my eyes closed, focusing only on the sound and the meditation that it brought about,î which felt ìsoothing and ethereal.î Other participants described the sound of music in a natural setting as being ìlike in a recording studioÖ.blending in with the ambient sound,î an experience that was ìoverwhelmingî and ìbeautiful.î A few participants actively sought out places in nature where the sound of their music would be ìat its best.î For example, places to play were chosen based on the ability of the sound waves to travel across water to a distant ìshore,î ìrock cliff,î or ìgranite wallî before echoing back. The time of day was also deemed relevant, as one participant preferred to play ìwhen the weather was calm, especially around sunsetî so the wind would not distort the sound.
Similar to finding the right location to play the instrument, a few participants found that ìthe instrument had a lot to do with it;î that is, creating a powerful experience. For example, Allen (i.e., a wooden flute player) stated, ìIt just seems like thatís the kind of instrument that should only be played in the woods;î Wendy found that singing created beautiful harmonies; Mason commented that the flute ìseems to just fit in the natural environment;î and Kiley would only play his fife in nature because ìit was not the same experience at allî to play ìat home.î
Playing music was a cathartic experience (i.e., it vented pent-up emotion) for a few participants. Others found that they were able to express their emotions through playing. Allen found that playing music had the power to release pent-up emotions at a time when he was unable to ìtell anybodyÖwhatî he ìwas feeling.î He was able to vent ìinternal feelingsî of sadness and separation. Venting pent-up emotions allows ìthe deeper partÖkept buried under all the pressure to come to life andÖcome out.î For instance, Fred, feeling down on his luck, found that playing music changed his mood. As he played, he realized the many things he had to be ìthankfulî for and appreciative of. This cathartic experience occurred as they expressed their emotions through playing music.
Expressing emotion through playing music occurs when oneís focus of attention extends beyond the technical aspects of playing a song; that is, ìafter the mechanical partsî are taken care of, the music can originate ìfrom the heart.î Emotional expression is similar to a cathartic experience but with less urgency. In other words, individuals express emotion as they feel them, as opposed to venting pent-up emotions. For example, Mason stated the following: ìAs I began to play I just focused on natural objects or the feeling I attained from looking out at the darkness and the silhouettes of the trees in the dark.î Likewise, Shannon found that as ìthe sun would light up the barren hills,î she ìwould have an overwhelming urge to sing.î These last two examples also demonstrate a focus of attention upon the natural surroundings.
Common among participants was a shift to or an intensified focus of attention on the natural surroundings as a result of playing music. For some, the shift actually started during a nature meditation, just prior to playing music. Feelings such as a sense of ìpeaceî were experienced as they viewed their natural surroundings. These feelings were intensified when the music started. Likewise, as the music was played, several shifted their focus from the music to the natural environment. Others experienced a noticeable shift in their focus either after or during pauses in the music. This increased focus upon the natural environment was a pivotal point to the experience. While focussing on the natural environment (i.e., either during or after playing the music), their emotions were suddenly and noticeably altered.
The Combined Effect of Playing Music and Being in a Natural Area: ìSomething More Than the Composite Parts.î
There is an interplay between focusing on playing music and focusing on natural surroundings which creates ìsomething more than the composite partsîóthe two intensify one another. This combined effect can occur swiftly and noticeably. For instance, some of the many descriptions of this effect were as follows: (a) ìIt just took on an extra dimension of absolute, absolute beautyÖ.something specialÖhad happenedóalmost a peace;î (b) ìIt felt like time had stopped;î (c) ìWhat I do remember is what happened when it (playing music) stoppedÖ.A great feeling;î (d) ìI am not what you would call, in the traditional sense, a spiritual person, but it was at that moment when I felt one of my strongest connections to the energies and essences of nature;î (e) ìI think what may have made it so special for me was thatÖinternal feelings being expressed also matchedÖhow the environment was influencing what I was expressing;î (f) ìIt was kind of neatÖnature would provide the setting for the song and the song would make the nature experience better.î One participant played his music in intervals (viewing nature during the pauses) and felt a ìgradualî shift from feeling depressed to ìfeeling really, really, really good.î
A few others described this moment through vivid descriptions of the landscape and of their emotion, both of which seemed to be intensified at the point of playing the music (or just after) and enjoying the natural environment. For instance, one participant became absorbed in viewing a distant glacier, clouds in the sky, and the flora surrounding her. Moreover, she recalled how rock that she had laid on felt and how her emotions swelled up inside her as she experienced these objects. The combined effect of playing music and being in a natural surrounding enhanced their awareness and emotions.
The effect of playing music in a natural setting fosters feelings of connection. Such feelings ranged from being ìpeacefulî and aware of the surroundings to having the people in the group ìcryingî tears of joy as a result of the ìmagical-spiritualî experience that profoundly increased their awareness of nature for the rest of the day. Moreover, a few participants also felt that they were directly communicating with certain aspects of nature.
Feeling connected with the natural surroundings also offers an enhanced awareness of surroundings. For instance, sensations may be awakened such as ìthe feel of wet pine needles and bits of lichenî under foot. Feeling connected can mean having ìno other thoughts other than the light breeze and the calls and actions of the birdsî that occupy the senses for that moment. The feeling of being connected to nature can be a moment when ìtimeî has ìstopped,î leaving ìthoughtsÖfree from association.î It can be the cheerful motivation behind a singing backpacker who almost continually is absorbed in her surroundings. It can be about feeling ìupliftedî in oneís surroundings and feeling ìgoodî will or ìloveî towards other people and species.
Feeling connected with nature can also include being in touch with ìthe chickadees,î ìthe loons,î ì the sled dogs,î or a greater force. For instance, a few participants had special interactions with birds. Fred joined in a thanksgiving song with the chickadees and felt that the chickadees ìacceptedî his input, which made him feel ìconnected toî his ìsurroundings.î Likewise, Kiley felt as though he had ìcommunicatedî with the distant loons from his canoe. Ted stated that ìthe sceneryÖwas beautiful, and playing to that view and the dogs was very uplifting. î Moreover, other references were made to being in touch with the ìgreater intangible entityî and ìthe Creator,î causing more profound emotional responses.
Following a sense of connection to nature are feelings of contentment and appreciation. One participant wrote: ìThe only thing left to do was lite [sic] up my pipe and have a mug of wine to complete the serenity and good feelings of the moment.î Another stated, ìWe really need to reconnect with the wilderness moreÖ.How do we ensure it will be around for generations to come?î Participants also felt ìthankful,î ìlucky,î ìrejuvenated, empowered,î and ìreally at peace.î One participant stated: ìIt was just so beautiful and it will remain as one of the top maybe five experiences of my life.î
In conclusion, in my presentation of data, I have presented a composite textural-structural description as found applicable across participantsí experiences. This description included five topic areas that progressed sequentially through the experience of playing a musical instrument during a nature-based leisure event. The first topic area discussed escape and change as motivations for visiting a natural area. In the second topic area, I outlined how music focused participantsí attention upon the music, upon an emotion, or upon the natural surroundings. The third topic area included a discussion on the combined effect of playing music and being in a natural area, an analysis which led to the fourth topic area, music as a way to connect with nature. The experience of connecting to nature was described. The final topic area offered examples of how the participants demonstrated their contentment and appreciation of the experience and natural environment.
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