• How we judge musical performances

    Despite what you think, it’s not based on sound.

    This set of seven experiments [] suggests that novices’ judgment mirrors that of professionals; both novices and experts make judgments about music performance quickly and automatically on the basis of visual information. Given the relative lack of consensus about competition outcomes noted among even expert judges, the fact that novices are able to quickly identify the actual competition winners at such high rates through silent videos alone is of both statistical and practical significance. These findings point to a powerful effect of vision-biased preferences on selection processes even at the highest levels of performance. […]

    Professional musicians and competition judges consciously value sound as central to this domain of performance, yet they arrive at different winners depending on whether visual information is available or not. This finding suggests that visual cues are indeed persuasive and sway judges away from recognizing the best performance that they themselves have, by consensus, defined as dependent on sound. Professional judgment appears to be made with little conscious awareness that visual cues factor so heavily into preferences and decisions.

    The paper is ungated. H/t Amitabh Chandra.


    • The evaluation process is still better than US News ratings for hospitals.

    • Memory has it that at least some classical competitions
      (auditions, actually) were, back in the 1970s, performed behind a
      curtain with the judges not aware of the name, sex, or race of the
      competitors. A violist acquaintance playing this game kept not
      getting chosen for orchestra jobs and was getting depressed. As a
      last try before giving up music, he borrowed a Stradivarius class
      instrument for an audition, and got a far better job than many of
      the ones he had failed to get. So sound does, sometimes, have
      something to do with music.