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The effects of learning a non-Western musical instrument on intercultural understanding

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posted on 2022-10-26, 01:32 authored by Marjorie LiMarjorie Li

Australia is characterised by a strong multicultural representation, yet ethnocultural tensions are increasingly evident nationwide, for example, the poor treatment of indigenous Australians and media and politicians blaming Chinese people for the COVID-19 pandemic. Strategies are urgently needed to nurture intercultural understanding to minimise such tensions. Rich intercultural music engagement (RIME) is proposed as an effective educational program that could foster the embodiment of intercultural experience. This thesis aimed to investigate whether four hours of RIME with Chinese or Middle Eastern music can nurture greater intercultural understanding and harmony among White Australians. A theoretical framework is proposed in which intercultural understanding occurs most effectively from embodied engagement with the cultural practices of another ethnocultural group. It was hypothesised that RIME with Chinese or Middle Eastern musical cultures should increase ethnocultural empathy and feelings of social connection, instil a positive attitude, and reduce implicit bias towards Chinese or Middle Eastern people. First year psychology students from Macquarie University, as well as members of community musical groups (N = 31, M = 33.84, SD = 19.28) were randomly assigned to one of the two plucked-string groups: Chinese pipa (n = 15) or Middle Eastern oud (n = 16). Before and after the RIME intervention, participants completed the scales of Ethnocultural Empathy, Tolerance, Inclusion of other in Self, Attitudes towards Ethnocultural groups, and Implicit Association Tests. Participants also completed an optional post-experiment survey with open-ended questions on their experience. As predicted, White Australian participants exhibited a significant increase in ethnocultural empathy, feelings of social connection to Chinese and Middle Eastern people, and improved explicit and implicit attitudes towards the ethnocultural groups. However, benefits differed for the two cultural groups. Findings are discussed in view of the proposed theoretical framework and current literature. The study provides the first empirical evidence that participatory RIME may be an effective tool to promote intercultural understanding. 


Discovery Project grant awarded to Professor Bill Thompson by the Australian Research Council

Macquarie University Postgraduate Research Scholarship


Table of Contents

Understanding -- 2. Method -- 3. Results -- 4. Discussion -- References -- Appendices


An empirical thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of Master of Research (Psychology)

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes


Thesis (MRes), Macquarie University, Faculty of Medicine, Health, and Human Sciences, 2021

Department, Centre or School

Department of Psychology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Bill Thompson

Additional Supervisor 1

Kirk Olson


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