Category: Music

Background music can make us less cautious

By Emma Young

Background music is a feature of most people’s everyday lives. Whether it’s while driving, at the gym, at home, or even at work, we often have music playing while we’re doing something else. Research into precisely how this affects our behaviour, emotions and cognitive processes have provided mixed findings, however. One of the reasons, argue Agustín Perez Santangelo at the University of Buenos Aires and colleagues, is there are so many variables, both in terms of the type of music used in the studies, and also the aspects of performance being measured — so it’s no wonder that results have been inconsistent.

Santangelo’s team decided, therefore, to explore changes in just one musical variable — tempo — and to look for effects on two individual aspects of decision-making: speed and accuracy. And they report in their paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, that background music did indeed have an effect: it made the participants less cautious.

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Episode 28: Why Songs Get Stuck In Our Heads

This is Episode 28 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.

Why do some songs get stuck in our heads? In this episode, our presenter Ginny Smith explores the psychology of earworms. Ginny hears about the possible evolutionary reasons for why we experience the phenomenon, learns what earworms can teach us about memory — and finds out how to get rid of them.

Our guests, in order of appearance, are Kelly Jakubowski, assistant professor of music psychology at Durham University; Petr Janata, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis; and Michael K. Scullin, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University.

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Bedtime Music Can Disrupt Your Sleep By Triggering Earworms

By Emma Young

Do you listen to quiet music to help you wind down before sleep? If you do, you’re following the advice of all kinds of organisations, including the US National Institutes of Health and the National Sleep Foundation. However, this advice could be counter-productive, according to a new study by Michael K. Scullin and colleagues at Baylor University. The work, published in Psychological Medicine, found that bedtime music was associated with more sleep disruptions — and that instrumental music is even worse than music with lyrics.

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Study Suggests There Is Not A “Sensitive Period” For Developing Musical Skills

By Emma Young

Mozart famously started playing the piano and composing while still a young child. But if he hadn’t started musical practice then, would his future achievements have been as impressive? Is there, in other words, a “sensitive period” in which the brain is especially susceptible to musical stimulation, and during which a person must start to acquire musical skills in order to achieve their full potential — as is the case for visual perception, say, or language acquisition? There has been a lot of debate about this, but now a major new study of professional musicians and identical and non-identical twins in Sweden suggests not. 

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Film Soundtracks Shape Our Impressions Of A Character’s Personality And Thoughts

By Emma Young

If you sit down to watch TV or a film these holidays, you might want to pay a little extra attention to how the soundtrack makes you feel. We all know that background music influences the tone of a scene but what, exactly, soundtracks do to our understanding of a character has not been studied in detail. In a new paper, in Frontiers in Psychology, Alessandro Ansani at Roma Tre University, Italy, and colleagues report work aimed at filling in some of the gaps.

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Why Are We Better At Remembering Vocal Melodies Than Instrumental Tunes?

By Matthew Warren

When it comes to memory for music, humans show an interesting quirk: we’re better at remembering melodies that are sung by voice, compared to those played on an instrument. Even a melody sung without any lyrics — just a series of la la las, for instance — becomes lodged in our memory in a way that a tune played on the piano, say, does not.

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Babies Relax When Listening To Unfamiliar Lullabies From Other Cultures

By Emma Young

The controversial idea that there are universals in the ways we use music received a boost in 2018, with the finding that people from 60 different countries were pretty good at judging whether a totally unfamiliar piece of music from another culture was intended to soothe a baby or to be danced to. Now, new research involving some of the same team has revealed that foreign lullabies that babies have never heard before work to relax them. 

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Our Ability To Perceive Musical Beat Becomes More Refined Through Childhood

By Emma Young

If you were to play your favourite song right now, I imagine you’d have little difficulty clapping along with the beat. Our appreciation of beat allows us to clap, dance, march and sway in time with a piece of music — or just with each other. As the authors of a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General point out, these behaviours occur spontaneously across human cultures. But while moving to a beat seems effortless, it involves all kinds of perceptual processes.

The team, led by Jessica E. Nave-Blodgett at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, now report that our ability to perceive beat becomes ever more refined and also nuanced through childhood and adolescence. It may seem like an instinctive ability, but it is learned — and training does make it better.

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Musings On Music: Seven Insights From Psychology

By Emma Young

Music and humans go back a very long way. The earliest accepted instruments, made from bones, appear on the European scene about 40,000 years ago. But for perhaps at least a million years before that, our ancestors had the throat architecture that in theory would have allowed them to sing.

All kinds of ideas have been put forward for why and how music came to matter so much to us. But what’s abundantly clear is that it does matter; there isn’t a society out there that doesn’t make and listen to music. And new research is now revealing all manner of psychological and neurological effects… Continue reading “Musings On Music: Seven Insights From Psychology”

Musicians And Their Audiences Show Synchronised Patterns Of Brain Activity

By Emma Young

When a musician is playing a piece, and the audience is enjoying it, they can develop physical synchronies. Both might tap their feet, sway their bodies, or clap their hands. “Through music, the producer and the perceiver connect emotionally and behaviourally,” note the authors of a new paper, published in NeuroImage. And now this team, led by Yingying Hou at East China Normal University, has uncovered a connection right down at the neural level. The team has observed “inter-brain coherence” (IBC) — a synchronisation in brain activity — between a musician and the audience. What’s more, the strength of this coherence could be used to predict how much the audience enjoyed a piece.

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