Humans Train Their Brain To Like Certain Music, Rather Than Rely On Nature To Do It For Them
February 14, 2013

Humans Train Their Brain To Like Certain Music, Rather Than Rely On Nature To Do It For Them

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

A new study has shown that those who dislike a certain style of music based on the sound of it, or the use of harmonies within, simply aren´t trying hard enough. In other words, our love of music and appreciation for harmony is a product of nurture, not nature.

According to associate professor Neil McLachlan from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, people can learn to appreciate and even love different styles of music that they may not have been surrounded with when they were growing up. It had been previously theorized that people were naturally inclined to appreciate a certain style or sound of music, based on the physical properties of a person´s ear and their ability to pick out harmonies. McLachlan claims that humans are capable of training their brains to hear certain harmonies and ultimately appreciate them.

“So if you thought that the music of some exotic culture (or Jazz) sounded like the wailing of cats, it´s simply because you haven´t learnt to listen by their rules,” McLachlan said in a statement.

To arrive at this new prediction, researchers played different sounds and harmonies to 66 volunteers with varying degrees of musical training. These volunteers were then asked if they were able to distinguish the harmonies and if these harmonies were pleasing to their ear.

“What we found was that people needed to be familiar with sounds created by combinations of notes before they could hear the individual notes. If they couldn´t find the notes they found the sound dissonant or unpleasant,” said McLachlan. “This finding overturns centuries of theories that physical properties of the ear determine what we find appealing.”

Those of the 66 volunteers who were trained musicians were more likely to have a negative reaction when they heard a dissonant sound.

“When they couldn´t find the note, the musicians reported that the sounds were unpleasant, whereas non-musicians were much less sensitive,” explained co-author associate professor Sarah Wilson.

According to Wilson, this study also proves that a person can train their brain to appreciate and even love a style of music foreign to them, such as jazz or rock and roll.

These researchers also noticed that those with musical training were able to pick out pitches in sounds that were played, such as a note of an odd-sounding chord or the sound of a gong. The musicians were not only able to find these pitches, but even said they were pleasant to their ear. Those volunteers without musical training, on the other hand, had difficulty identifying the pitch and therefore said the notes were unappealing to them.

In other words, in order to appreciate a sound, one must learn it and understand it. According to associate professor Wilson, this finding proves that people are, in fact, able to learn how to appreciate styles of music.

In order to prove this theory, the researchers found 19 people without any musical training and played them a selection of western chords over 10 short sessions. In the beginning, these participants were not able to pick out the individual sounds and found them unpleasant. Through the course of these 10 short sessions, these participants quickly learned to pick out the individual notes in these odd chords. At the end, they found these same chords that had earlier sounded strange now sounded lovely.

“We have shown in this study that for music, beauty is in the brain of the beholder,” said McLachlan.