index: Music can evoke a range of emotions and help us better understand different cultures. But what makes us listen to some songs more than others? Researchers say that when we listen to a song, our brain makes predictions about what will happen next, and this prediction determines whether we like that song or not.
A few years ago, Spotify published a publication on the online interactive map of musical tastes, organized by the city. At the time, Jane added, he was sovereign in Paris and Nantes, and London was smitten with local hip-hop duo Krypt and Kronan. It is well known that musical tastes vary over time according to regions and even according to social groups.
However, most brains are born alike, so what goes on inside them that we end up with such disparate tastes in music?
Emotions – prediction story
If someone offers you an unfamiliar tune and they stop abruptly, you may be able to sing the tune you think works best for you. Professional musicians can at least! In the study participated in Journal of Neuroscience In September 2021, we showed 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 combined with the observation we have already heard, resulting in a ‘prediction error’. We used this prediction error as a kind of neural score to measure the brain’s ability to anticipate the next note of a melody.
In 1956, American composer and musicologist Leonard Meyer hypothesized that emotions can be evoked by music through feelings of satisfaction or frustration caused by listeners’ expectations. Since then, academic developments have made it possible to identify the link between musical expectations and other, more complex emotions.
For example, participants in one study were able to memorize sequences of notes better if they could first accurately predict the notes within them.
Now the basic emotions (such as joy, sadness or annoyance) can be divided into two basic dimensions, parity and the psychological activationwhich measure the degree of emotion positivity (for example, sadness compared to joy) and arousal (boredom compared to anger), respectively. Combining the two helps us identify these basic feelings.
Two studies from 2013 and 2018 showed that when participants were asked to rank these two dimensions on a sliding scale, there was a clear relationship between prediction error and emotion. For example, in these studies, musical notes that predicted less accurately led to feelings with greater psychological activation.
Throughout the history of cognitive neuroscience, pleasure has often been linked to the reward system, particularly in relation to learning processes. Studies have shown that there are specific dopamine neurons that respond to prediction error.
Among other functions, this process allows us to learn and predict the world around us. It is not yet clear whether pleasure stimulates learning or vice versa, but the two processes are undoubtedly related. This also applies to music.
When we listen to music, the greatest pleasure is to anticipate events with moderate accuracy. In other words, events that are very simple and predictable, or even very complex, do not necessarily lead to new learning and therefore generate little pleasure.
Most of the fun comes from intermediate events—those that are complex enough to spark interest but consistent enough with our predictions to form a pattern.
Expectations depend on our culture
However, our anticipation of musical events remains closely linked to our musical education. To explore this phenomenon, a group of researchers met with the Sami who inhabit the area stretching between far north Sweden and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Their traditional song known as fastIt differs greatly from Western tonal music because of the limited exposure to Western culture.
For the study published in 2000, musicians from the regions of Sami, Finland, and the rest of Europe (from various countries unfamiliar with yoik singing) were invited to listen to yoik snippets they had not heard of before. They were then asked to sing the song’s next note, which was intentionally omitted.
Interestingly, the prevalence of the data differed significantly between groups. Not all participants provided the same answer, but some observations were more widespread than others within each group.
Those who most accurately predicted the next note in a song were the Sámi musicians, followed by the Finnish musicians, who had more exposure to Sámi music than those elsewhere in Europe.
Learn about new cultures through passive exposure
This leads us to the question of how we learn about cultures, a process known as learning inculturation. For example, musical time can be divided in different ways. Western musical traditions typically use four time signatures (as heard in classic rock and roll) or triple time signatures (as heard in waltzes).
However, other cultures use what they call Western music theory asymmetric meters. Balkan music, for example, is known for its asymmetrical scales such as nine times or seven times signatures.
For an exploration of these differences, see AJ Etude 2005 on Folk Melodies in Symmetrical or Asymmetrical Meters.
In each, impulses were added or removed at a specific time — known as an “incident” — and then participants of different ages listened. Whether the room has balanced or unbalanced counters, babies six months of age and younger listen for the same amount of time.
However, 12-month-olds spent significantly more time looking at the screen when “incidents” were entered on symmetrical counters than when they were entered with unequal counters.
It can be inferred that the subjects were more surprised by a symmetric scaling incident because they interpreted it as a disruption of a familiar pattern.
To test this hypothesis, the researchers asked children to play a CD of Balkan music (in unbalanced scales) at home. The experiment was repeated after a week of listening, and the children spent the same amount of time looking at the screen when the incidents occurred, whether the counter was symmetric or asymmetric.
This means that by passively listening to Balkan music, they were able to build an internal representation of the musical scale, which allowed them to predict the pattern and detect events in both types of meters.
A 2010 study found a surprisingly similar effect in adults—in this case, not for rhythm but for tone. These experiments show that passive exposure to music can help us learn the specific musical styles of a particular culture – formally known as the process. inculturation.
Throughout this article, we’ve seen how passive listening to music can change the way we anticipate musical patterns when presented with a new track. We also looked at the many ways in which listeners predict these patterns, depending on their culture, and how they distort perception by causing them to experience pleasure and emotions differently. Although more research is needed, these studies have opened up new avenues for understanding why there is such a diversity of our musical tastes.
What we now know is that our musical culture (that is, the music we have listened to throughout our lives) distorts our perception and makes us prefer certain pieces over others, whether by similarity or contrast to pieces we have already heard. .
About this music and neuroscience research news
Writer: Gilham Marion
Contact: Guilhem Marion – The Conversation
picture: The image is in the public domain
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