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Hardcover | Out of Print | ISBN: 9780262083454 | 480 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 108 illus.| April 2006
Paperback | $25.00 Text | £17.95 | ISBN: 9780262582780 | 480 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 108 illus.| January 2008
Ebook | $18.00 Short | ISBN: 9780262252096 | 480 pp. | 108 illus.| January 2008
About MIT Press Ebooks

Sweet Anticipation

Music and the Psychology of Expectation


The psychological theory of expectation that David Huron proposes in Sweet Anticipation grew out of the author's experimental efforts to understand how music evokes emotions. These efforts evolved into a general theory of expectation that will prove informative to readers interested in cognitive science and evolutionary psychology as well as those interested in music. The book describes a set of psychological mechanisms and illustrates how these mechanisms work in the case of music. All examples of notated music can be heard on the Web.

Huron proposes that emotions evoked by expectation involve five functionally distinct response systems: reaction responses (which engage defensive reflexes); tension responses (where uncertainty leads to stress); prediction responses (which reward accurate prediction); imagination responses (which facilitate deferred gratification); and appraisal responses (which occur after conscious thought is engaged). For real-world events, these five response systems typically produce a complex mixture of feelings. The book identifies some of the aesthetic possibilities afforded by expectation, and shows how common musical devices (such as syncopation, cadence, meter, tonality, and climax) exploit the psychological opportunities. The theory also provides new insights into the physiological psychology of awe, laughter, and spine-tingling chills. Huron traces the psychology of expectations from the patterns of the physical/cultural world through imperfectly learned heuristics used to predict that world to the phenomenal qualia we experienced as we apprehend the world.

About the Author

David Huron is Professor of Music and Head of the Cognitive and Systematic Musicology Laboratory in the School of Music at Ohio State University and is affiliated with OSU's Center for Cognitive Science.


“A richly detailed theory of how and why the audience has particular expectations and emotions.... A fascinating journey into the inner workings of music and how it tickles the human mind.”—Petr Janata, Nature
Sweet Anticipation ... in its range, rigour and insights constitutes an astonishing achievement. Although it announces itself as a book about expectation in music, it goes well beyond what that might imply and is more like a broad and encompassing theory of music perception and cognition, with expectation as the central concept.”—Prof. Eric Clarke, Music Analysis
“Having worked on the question of musical expectancy for a number of years myself reading David Huron's recent book has been, for me, a real treat. My interest in this topic does, however, make me a harsh critic of work on this topic. It is within such a context, then, that I praise this book. Quite simply, Sweet Anticipation is excellent.”—Prof. Mark Schmuckler, Philosophical Psychology
“David Huron's superb book Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation ... is an exceptional contribution to the field of music cognition and represents a clear advance in our understanding of the role of expectancy in musical experience. As a cognitive psychologist, I find Huron's proposals for expectancy mechanisms and their possible evolutionary origin convincing and novel. Indeed, throughout the book musical issues are connected with human psychology in a way that reflects a deep and nuanced understanding of both disciplines.... On the whole, Huron provides an extraordinarily rich analysis of the phenomenon of musical expectation and provides a persuasive account of its psychological sources. Sweet Anticipation is without question one of the most exciting pieces of scholarship to emerge in the past decade, and should be read by anyone with a serious interest in the psychology of music.”—Prof. William Thompson, Empirical Musicology Review
Sweet Anticipation is a brilliant work that will continue to inspire for many years to come.”—Dr. Adam Ockelford, Psychology of Music
“Huron's ability to show the link between the biologically driven need to acquire knowledge for survival and the phenomenology of 'hypermetric anticipation', 'tonal syncopation', and other such specific, highly technical musical procedures is one of the book's greatest triumphs.”—Prof. Giorgio Biancorosso, Music & Letters
“This is a remarkable publication that reflects a keen vision. It casts the meaning of music within a broad, scientific scenario.”—Dr. Rita Aiello, Empirical Musicology Review
“One of the strengths of Sweet Anticipation is that it is an ambitious work that offers a Big Theory. Huron draws together insights from disparate fields such as music theory, evolutionary theory, neurobiology, and cognitive science into a theory that is coherent, parsimonious, and powerful.”—Drs. Catherine Stevens & Tim Byron, Music Perception
“By persuasively putting forward a general theory of expectation by way of music, Huron's book will not only draw the attention of specialists in other fields to the work done by music theorists but also establish a benchmark for the future role of music in psychological research. For his theory implicitly demonstrates the significance of music not merely as a heuristic tool but also as a fundamental and highly symptomatic aspect of mental life.”—Prof. Giorgio Biancorosso, Music & Letters
“This really is a very significant book on our responses to, and understanding of, music—and one that has a disarming ability to simplify previously tangled debates without becoming simplistic.... Anyone interested in understanding the extraordinary range and dynamic character of listeners' responses to music will find a huge amount here to think about, some very entertaining anecdotes and examples, and inspiring model of how to tackle a complex subject with care, rigour, great scholarship and an awareness of the power of simplicity.”—Prof. Eric Clarke, Music Analysis
Sweet Anticipation should be required reading for all composers and musicologists.... This is certainly the best music theory book that I've read in many, many, years.... Highly recommended!”—David Stutz,
“Apart from anything else, David Huron's book provides a wealth of fascinating insights amassed throughout 20 years of research in the field.”—Marcus Pearce & Daniel Müllensiefen, Musicae Scientiae
“Huron writes with humour and humanity.”—Dr. Adam Ockelford, Psychology of Music
“I can't put the book down! A must read for anyone who has read Meyer, Narmour, or Lerdahl. An exploration of human expectation as exemplified through a rigorous and systematic understanding of music cognition.”—Dr. David Spondike,


Sweet Anticipation demands careful attention from music scholars who still believe that experimental psychology is too primitive to speak to their concerns. In unpacking the process of expectation, long understood to play a crucial role in our emotional response to music, David Huron makes a powerful case for a musicology that is empirically informed and statistically based. Even those who question whether musical cognition is as strongly determined as he suggests will be challenged by his questioning of basic theoretical assumptions and won over by his continual emphasis on pleasure as a goal, perhaps the goal, of musical experience.”
William Benjamin, Professor of Music, University of British Columbia
“The quintessence of the French mind—precision, concision, elegance—as it should be, Pascal rather than Derrida. Everyone who knows William Thomson knows that he is not only a great economist but also a master expositor, be it in his papers and books or in his talks. In this book, he shares his remarkable know-how with us young and not-so-young economists.”
Maurice Salles, Professor of Economics, Université de Caen, and Coordinating Editor, Social Choice and Welfare
“David Huron draws on evolutionary theory and statistical learning to situate the particular issue of musical expectation within the study of human expectation in general. The result is a widely knowledgeable and engagingly written book that will serve as a landmark in the cognitive science of music.”
Fred Lerdahl, Fritz Reiner Professor of Music, Columbia University