Scientists turned a live electronic music concert into a lab study to find out how different aspects of music influence the body. Researchers introduced levels of bass over speakers that were too low to hear and monitored the crowd’s movements. The scientists found that people danced 11.8 percent more when the very low-frequency bass was present. The study was published on November 7 in the journal Current Biology.
“I’m trained as a drummer, and most of my research career has been focused on the rhythmic aspects of music and how they make us move,” says first author Daniel Cameron, a neuroscientist from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. “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?”
Cameron conducts research at the McMaster LIVELab. This unique research theater connects science with live performance. It is equipped with 3D motion capture and a Meyer sound system that can replicate various concert environments. It also features enhanced speakers that can produce extremely low frequencies, so low they were undetectable to the human ear.
For the Current Biology study, Cameron and colleagues recruited participants attending a LIVELab concert for electronic musical duo Orphx, a Canadian music duo made up of Rich Oddie and Christina Sealey. The concertgoers were equipped with motion-sensing headbands to monitor their dance moves. Additionally, they 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.
Throughout the 45-minute concert, the researchers manipulated the very-low bass-playing speakers, turning them on and off every two minutes. They found the amount of movement was 12 percent greater when the speakers were on.
“The musicians were enthusiastic to participate because of their interest in this idea that bass can change how the music is experienced in a way that impacts movement,” says Cameron. “The study had high ecological validity, as this was a real musical and dance experience for people at a real live show.”
The feeling of vibration through touch and the interactions between the inner ear and the brain have close links to the motor system. The researchers speculate these physical processes are at work in the neurological connection between music and movement. This anatomy can pick up on low frequencies and can affect the perception of “groove,” spontaneous movement, and rhythm perception.
“Very low frequencies may also affect vestibular sensitivity, adding to people’s experience of movement. Nailing down the brain mechanisms involved will require looking the effects of low frequencies on the vestibular, tactile, and auditory pathways,” says Cameron.
Reference: “Undetectable very low frequency sound increases dancing at a live concert” by Daniel J. Cameron, Dobromir Dotov, Erica Flaten, Daniel Bosnyak, Michael J. Hove and Laurel J. Trainor, 7 November 2022, Current Biology.
Financial support was provided by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.