Why does a lullaby soothe a newborn, a dirge console the grieving, and a KoRn song make you want to rip your ears out?
According to a study out yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, our cognitive connection to music may have evolved from an older skill, the ability to glean emotion from motion. People will choose the same combination of spatiotemporal features — a certain speed, rhythm, and smoothness — whether pairing a particular emotion with a melody or with a cartoon animation, the study found. But most surprising, the results held true in people from two starkly different cultures: a rural village in Cambodia and a college campus in New England.
The study dates to an afternoon in the spring of 2008, when Beau Sievers sat down for a class on the origins of music at Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire. Sievers, a composer, was working on a Master’s degree in something called electroacoustic music (now called digital musics), an unusual program for people who want to study relationships between music, technology and cognitive science. That afternoon the class heard from a guest lecturer, psychology professor Thalia Wheatley, whose neuroimaging studies had pinpointed some of the brain regions involved in perceiving motion. Other labs had found that some of the very same regions activate during music perception, giving Wheatley the idea that the two skills are somehow linked in the mind.
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