Music performed by humans ‘links’ our brainwaves with the urge to dance, but music with an artificial mechanical beat does not, research from Goldsmiths, University of London suggests.
Psychologists studying the connection between brainwave synchronisation and the sense of groove - the urge to move along with musical rhythms - found that this brain behaviour connection is greater when the rhythms were performed by humans, rather than produced artificially.
A report of the research is published in the journal Experimental Brain Research.
Postdoctoral fellow and research lead author, Dr Daniel Cameron, said: “These results point to the essentially human and social nature of music.
“We knew that brainwaves can synchronise to musical rhythms and that this synchronisation is linked to our experience, but the fact that the robust relationship between neural entrainment and the desire to move was only present for the performed and not mechanical rhythms was fascinating.
“This may relate to why we’re more inclined to dance when we’re at a concert with live musicians and surrounded by people in the audience, rather than when we’re alone and listening to recorded music.”
In the reported study, participants listened to performed and mechanical versions of a piece of Clapping Music by Steve Reich, and their EEG was recorded to measure ‘neural entrainment’ (synchronisation of brainwaves) to the 12 unique rhythms of the piece.
A separate group of participants rated both the mechanical and performed versions of each rhythm and provided their subjective ratings of each rhythm’s complexity, pleasure, beat and groove.
Although these ratings did not differ between mechanical and performed versions, and neural entrainment was greater for mechanical rhythms, it was the performed rhythms that were specifically associated with a brain-groove relationship.
The performed rhythms to which brainwaves were most synchronised were also the rhythms that were rated as the most groovy and the most complex.
Even when performed by expert musicians, performed pieces have subtly expressive timing compared to the same pieces of music played by a computer, which will have extremely precise mechanical timing.
This greater precision is likely why mechanical rhythms elicited a greater degree of brain synchronisation than the same piece of music performed by musicians.
The study’s results also suggest the existence of multiple interacting influences on how our brains synchronise to a beat, from low-level properties of the stimulus itself to high-level cognition and perception.
Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya, lead author of the study, said: “These findings are indicative of listeners’ grooving preference towards subtle variability in performed rhythms. However, further studies are needed to establish a direction of causality between grooving and neural entrainment, and also its relationship with other important dimensions of musical experience like familiarity, attention, and emotional arousal.”
Neural Entrainment is Associated with Subjective Groove and Complexity for Performed but not Mechanical Musical Rhythms by Daniel Cameron (McMaster University), Ioanna Zioga, Marcus T. Pearce and Geraint Wiggins (Queen Mary), Joydeep Bhattacharya, Keith Potter and Job Lindsen (Goldsmiths) was published in Experimental Brain Research on 31 May 2019.