It is all about the bass, McMaster neuroscientist in Hamilton confirms

By

Published November 10, 2022 at 11:09 am

A McMaster University neuroscience researcher in Hamilton has figured out what gives concertgoers those good vibrations and such sweet sensations

Daniel Cameron, a post-doctoral fellow at McMaster who is a neuroscientist — and a drummer — is first author on a new study that is part of learning about how myriad aspects of music influence the body. Using the McMaster LIVELab, which connects science with live performance in a unique research theatre, the researchers found out people danced nearly 12 per cent more when some very low-frequency bass — undetectable-to-the-human-ear low — was present in the concert setting.

The LiveLab is equipped with 3D motion capture, a sound system that can replicate concert settings, and enhanced speakers that can produce extremely low frequencies. For this study, which was written up in the journal Current Biology, the McMaster team of Cameron and fellow authors Dobromir Dotov, Erica Flaten, Daniel Bosnyak, Michael J. Hove and Laurel J. Trainor recruited people to attend a LIVELab concert by electronic musical duo Orphx.

The concertgoers were equipped with motion-sensing headbands to monitor their dance moves, as researchers manipulated the very-low bass-playing speakers — turning them on and off every two minutes — and compared the amount of dancing. There was an 11.8-per-cent increase when the low bass was played.

“Music is a biological curiosity — it doesn’t reproduce us, it doesn’t feed us, and it doesn’t shelter us, so why do humans like it and why do they like to move to it?” is how Cameron outlined his curiosity to brighterworld.mcmaster.ca.

Participants were asked to fill out survey forms before and after the event. These forms were used to ensure the sound was undetectable, measure concert enjoyment, and examine how the music felt physically.

In other words, the sense of touch and interactions between the inner ears and brain are linked to people’s motor behaviour — any activity that results from stimulation of motor neurons, including reflex actions.

Human beings are animals, and far from the only species that can be stimulated by sensing vibrations. A similar neuroscientific theory was pontificated by perpetual 10-year-old Bart Simpson in a 1993 episode of the long-running animated comedy series The Simpsons.

In the episode “Whacking Day,” Bart is briefly homeschooled after being expelled from Springfield Elementary School for running over the school superintendent with Groundskeeper Willie’s tractor. At the same time, his eight-year-old sister Lisa is horrifed by the town of Springfield’s annual Whacking Day holiday. Every May 10, residents drive snakes into the centre of town and, per local news anchor Kent Brockman, “send them to snake heaven.”

Bart, who has learned that snakes hear by sensing vibrations in the ground, theorizes that putting their parents’ studio speakers on the ground and playing “something with a lot of bass” will draw the snakes to a haven in the family’s living room. Serendipitously, the soul singer Barry White happened to be walking down the street after an ill-fated turn as grand marshal of the Whacking Day festival, and the snakes are saved.

Circling back to vertebrates, the findings at McMaster shed further light on the links between music and movement. As is the case in scholarly research, Cameron told brighterworld.mcmaster.ca that looking at other sensory systems is needed. Those include the auditory (hearing), tactile (touch, pain pressure, etc.) and the vestibular (balance and spatial orientation).

“Nailing down the brain mechanisms involved will require looking the effects of low frequencies on the vestibular, tactile, and auditory pathways,” Cameron states.

The Current Biology article can be read at cell.com.

insauga's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising