Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Music, oxytocin, and synchronization

Physicist Sean Carroll talks with Indre Viskontas, neuroscientist and opera singer.
0:37:07 Indre Viskontas: It’s the terrible times. Yeah. So, one of things that’s great about music is that it’s a powerful social glue. So when you listen… When you bounce in sync with someone else to music, you actually raise levels of an attachment hormone called oxytocin in both of your brains, and that makes you feel more bonded. So there are some clever little experiments where you’d have people bouncing in sync with each other to a particular piece of music or in sync with the experimenter and then the experiment finishes and, thank you very much, and here’s the debriefing sheet, “Oh, let me just walk you to the elevator,” and on the way to the elevator, you drop a pencil, how likely is the person to pick it up?

0:37:46 Physicist Sean Carroll: Huh.

0:37:46 IV: It turns out that if you bounced in sync, much more likely.


0:37:51 SC: Is that a reproduced thing, though?


0:37:54 IV: Well… And it’s been reproduced in toddlers, nonetheless.

0:37:56 SC: Wow.

0:37:57 IV: So toddlers will also be more likely to help an accidentally dropped toy if they were bounced in sync by the adult or by the adult’s friend, but not if there’s a neutral person in the room that seems to be a stranger. So there does seem to be some kind of attachment that happens where you tend to then associate the person that you were in sync with literally physically as part of your tribe, and people who you’re out of sync with as another tribe. [...]

0:39:26 IV: There’s like these nasal sprays, and if you… There’s a study that I really like where if you spray people with this or you give them this oxytocin nasal spray, they actually keep the rhythm better.

0:39:38 SC: Really?

0:39:38 IV: It like gives them rhythm, [laughter] yeah, it makes them more in sync when they’re…

0:39:41 SC: The rhythm molecule, alright.


0:39:42 IV: Yeah. Well, I mean, if you think about what it means to be in sync with someone that… It seems like that would make sense.


0:39:49 SC: Alright, the synchronization molecule. This is connecting a whole bunch of different podcast topics, ’cause I talked to Steven Strogatz about synchronization in different animal systems.
Music and empathy:
1:03:24 IV: Well, I think in the most simplest way I think it engenders empathy. I think it allows us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes to experience someone else’s humanity in a way that maybe we wouldn’t have in another medium. And therefore, feel merciful towards them or feel connected to them or… And somehow understand them a little bit better. So if you think about the kind of music… It gives people an outlet. Like sometimes I think about the turntable culture of the 1970s in New York, where… This is where this was invented and it was invented because people needed to get out of their homes, ’cause they didn’t really love where they lived, and they wanted to be social together, go out into the streets and they’d have these dance parties and they just wanted to keep dancing, and so, they created this two turntable technique, where you can essentially keep the rhythm going. It doesn’t have to stop.

1:04:14 SC: The song doesn’t end.

1:04:15 IV: The song doesn’t end, right? You can keep dancing forever, right? And so anyway, and then you add on to that spoken word and an outlet for people to express themselves and so forth. And so, all of a sudden you can see that how this kind of genre of music evolved out of a sense of trying to engage with your community, trying to make your own situation better.

1:04:38 SC: And of course, there’s a flip side, right, like we already said, there are fight songs, and fight songs can be good if it’s just my sports team versus your sports team, but there’s also martial music, and you can stir up the emotions of a populace using music.

1:04:50 IV: That’s right, exactly. And even in the book I mention Bono, who was my favorite artist growing up, he was basically not wanting to sing Sunday Bloody Sunday, because he was worried it was going to incite more violence. I mean, this is like, he was genuinely worried about this. [laughter] And…

1:05:06 SC: Well, maybe he’s not crazy.

1:05:08 IV: Yeah, I don’t think he is, right? I think that there are times when you can exactly stir up people’s emotions enough where they go out and then they riot. I mean, you do the same thing with for some reason, sports, ball games, right?
Ht/ 3QD.

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