Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Music moves us

2. Movement: Music Moves You, Even If You Refuse to Dance

Humans are one of the extremely few species that can synchronize their body movement to music (even babies do it - take a look at this popular video clip of 11-month-old infants trying to sync to the beat!). Brain imaging studies have shown that the motor areas of the brain are active even during passive listening to musical rhythms without any movement (11). It has been said that music prepares people for movement. But how is this special property of music connected to the experience of emotions?

It has been proposed (12) that the aforementioned human mirror neuron system could in fact also encode the movements conveyed by melodies. This would mean that the system might process movement in music like physical movement. In other words, an upward going melody would be processed in the brain as upward movement. And as upward movement is typically related to experiences like jumping for joy, this mirroring in the brain (however, without overt movement) would contribute to the recognition and experience of the emotion conveyed by the music.

It also seems that acoustic features of music as well as characteristics of physical movement may be universally interpreted to represent specific emotions. An intriguing study (13) compared how subjects from the US and from an isolated tribe in Cambodia that had never been exposed to Western music, experienced the emotion expressed by acoustic properties of melodies and the movement characteristics of an animated ball. Subjects were asked to manipulate the melodies and the movement of the animated ball for their tempo or rate of bouncing, direction of movement and so on (to best match a specific basic emotion like fear, happiness, sadness and anger). The study found that similar physical movement of the ball and similar movements in music represented the same emotions regardless of the subjects’ exposure to Western music (for example, up either as movement or as a melody increasing in pitch would tend to be related to happy instead of sad).

In summary, movement, be it in musical or physical form, is one important way of conveying emotions. Thus, people who say that they are moved by music are more right than they realize!
The article has a bunch of useful references.

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What's the Synch Project up to?
We are creating a platform to scientifically measure and harness music to improve health.

Our platform maps music characteristics to real-time biometrics gathered from an exploding variety of sensors. We hope to understand and decode the personalized therapeutic effect of music.

We are at the beginning of our journey, we don’t have all the answers, and we can't do it alone. To achieve our vision, we created The Sync Project as a global collaboration with some of the most passionate and visionary minds in science, music, health and technology. We need scientists, music lovers, engineers, musicians, patients and patient advocacy groups, everyone, to take part in this ambitious project. Only together can we decode music for health. In time, we hope this can help the lives of millions.

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