Why Certain Types of Music Make Our Brains Sing, and Others Don’t

Summary: Music can stimulate a range of emotions and help us better understand different cultures. But what makes us tune into some songs more than others? Researchers say that when we listen to a song, our brain predicts what will happen next, and that prediction determines whether we like that song or not. isn’t it.

Source: The Conversation

A few years ago, Spotify published an interactive online map of music tastes, organized by city. At the time, Jeanne Added was in Paris and Nantes, and London was part of the local hip hop duo Krept and Kronan. It has been proven that musical tastes change over time, by region and even by social group.

However, most brains look similar at birth, so what happens in them that causes us to have such different musical tastes?

Awareness – a story of prediction

If someone gave you an unfamiliar melody and suddenly stopped, you might be able to sing the note you think is best. At least, professional musicians could! In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in September 2021, we show that similar predictive mechanisms occur in the brain every time we listen to music, without necessarily being aware of it.

These predictions are generated in the auditory cortex and integrated with the note heard, resulting in a “prediction error”. We used this prediction error as a kind of neural score to measure how well the brain could predict the next note in a melody.

Back in 1956, the US composer and musicologist Leonard Meyer theorized that emotion could be triggered in music by a sense of satisfaction or frustration derived from the listener’s expectations. Since then, academic advances have helped to identify a link between musical expectations and other, more complex emotions.

For example, participants in one study were able to remember tone sequences much better if they could correctly predict the notes within.

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Now, basic emotions (eg, joy, sadness or annoyance) can be broken down into two basic dimensions, valence and mental activity, which measure, respectively, how positive an emotion is (eg, sadness versus joy) and how arousing it is (boredom versus anger). Combining both helps us to explain these basic emotions.

Two studies from 2013 and 2018, when participants were asked to rate these two dimensions on a sliding scale, showed a clear relationship between prediction error and emotion. For example, in these studies, less accurate musical notes led to feelings of increased cognitive activity.

Throughout the history of cognitive neuroscience, pleasure has often been linked to the reward system, especially in relation to learning processes. Studies have shown that there are specific dopaminergic neurons that deal with prediction error.

Among other functions, this process allows us to learn and make predictions about the world around us. It is not yet clear whether happiness drives learning or vice versa, but there is no doubt that the two processes are connected. This also applies to music.

When we listen to music, the greatest pleasure comes from events predicted with only a moderate degree of error. In other words, events that are too simple and predictable – or, indeed, ones that are too complex – do not necessarily stimulate new learning and thus generate just a little enjoyment.

Most of the pleasure comes from the events that fall in between – those that are complicated enough to be interesting but consistent enough with our predictions to form a pattern.

Prophecies depend on our culture

Nevertheless, our prediction of musical events is still inextricably linked to our musical construction. To investigate this phenomenon, a group of researchers met the Sámi, who live in the area that stretches between the northernmost areas of Sweden and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. They have their traditional singing, which is called youngvery different from Western tonal music due to the limited exposure to Western culture.

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Credit: Anita Livstrand

For a study published in 2000, musicians from Sámi regions, Finland and the rest of Europe (the latter coming from various countries unfamiliar with yoik singing) were asked to listen to excerpts of yoiks never heard before. They were then asked to sing the next note in the song, which was left out on purpose.

Interestingly, the distribution of the data varied greatly between groups; not all participants gave the same answer, but certain notes were more common than others in each group.

The Sámi musicians were the best at predicting the next note in the song, followed by the Finnish musicians, who knew more about Sámi music than those from other parts of the Region. Europe.

Learning new cultures through passive exposure

This brings us to the question of how we learn about cultures, a so-called process nurture. For example, musical time can be divided in different ways. Western musical traditions usually use four time signatures (as often heard in classic rock ‘n’ roll) or three time signatures (as heard in waltzes).

However, other cultures use what Western music theory describes as inconsistent meter. Balkan music, for example, is known for asymmetric meters such as nine-time or seven-time signatures.

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To explore these differences, a 2005 study looked at country peaks with symmetrical or asymmetrical meters.

In each, beats were added or removed at a certain time – something called an “accident” – and then participants of different ages listened to them. Regardless of whether the piece had symmetric or asymmetric meter, infants aged six months or less listened for the same amount of time.

However, 12-month-olds spent significantly more time looking at the screen when the “collisions” were introduced in the symmetrical meters compared to the asymmetrical ones.

We could conclude from this that an accident in a symmetrical meter surprised the subjects more because they interpreted it as a disruption of a familiar pattern.

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This shows a woman playing the guitar
Back in 1956, the US composer and musicologist Leonard Meyer theorized that emotion could be triggered in music by a sense of satisfaction or frustration derived from the listener’s expectations. The photo is in the public domain

To test this hypothesis, a CD of Balkan music (with asymmetric meters) was played by the babies in their homes. The experiment was repeated after a week of listening, and the infants spent the same amount of time looking at the screen when the collisions were introduced, regardless of whether the meter was symmetrical or not. – consistent.

This means that by passively listening to Balkan music, they were able to build an internal representation of the musical meter, which allowed them to predict the pattern and detect collisions in both types of meter. .

A 2010 study found a very similar effect among adults—in this case, not for rhythm but for pitch. These experiments show that passive exposure to music can help us learn the specific musical patterns of a particular culture – formally known as a process nurture.

Throughout this article, we have seen how passive listening can change the way we predict musical patterns when we receive a new piece. We have also looked at the different ways in which audiences predict such patterns, depending on their culture and how it moves an idea by making them feel happy and emotions differently. Although more research is needed, these studies have opened new avenues to understand why there is such diversity in our musical tastes.

What we now know is that our musical culture (that is the music we have listened to all our lives) affects our perception and causes our preference for certain pieces over others, whether they are similar or different from pieces we have already heard.

About this music and ornithology research news

Author: Marion Guilhem
Source: The Conversation
Contact: Guilhem Marion – The Conversation
Image: The image is in the public domain

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