Article image

Music can synchronize listeners' brainwaves

If you’ve ever been at a concert and felt like you’re perfectly in tune with the rest of the audience, there may be a good reason. It turns out that music really is captivating, with the ability to sync listeners’ brainwaves.

A study by researchers from the City College of New York and the University of Arkansas took a new look at neural responses to music.  

According to their research, when people are engaged in listening to music – especially unfamiliar musical styles – their neural responses line up with other listeners.

“Across repeated exposures to instrumental music, inter-subject correlation decreased for music written in a familiar style,” researchers Drs. Jens Madsen, Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis, Rhimmon Simchy-Gross and Lucas C. Parra wrote in their report.

Unfamiliar musical styles were especially good at holding an audience’s interests and syncing listeners’ brainwaves, especially among those with musical training, the researchers found.

Repetition led to less engagement with a piece of music, they wrote.

To reach their conclusions, the team measured neural activity via EEG as their study participants listened to a selection of instrumental classical music. In two of the study groups, participants listened to certain selections three times each. Researchers also asked some of the groups to distract themselves by counting backwards while listening.

The experiments allowed the researchers to see how music affects listeners, as well as how it can sync listeners’ brainwaves.

“What is so cool about this, is that by measuring people’s brainwaves we can study how people feel about music and what makes it so special,” Madsen said in a press release.

The participants were undergraduate students at the University of Arkansas and undergraduate and graduate students at the City College of New York. They were not music majors, though some had received musical training.

The study adds some important evidence to research on how people engage with music, which has mostly been self-reported. It may also add a new perspective to research on how music helps people form connections.

The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day