Universal Responses to Music – We Are All Pavlov’s Dog

In a study by Hauke Egermann, et al. (January 2015), it was found that humans seem to have a universal physiological response to sound – specifically music in this study. The tests were performed with forty Congolese Pygmies and forty Canadians. In all subjects, there were similar physiological response to musical examples, even when the music was very familiar to one group and not the other!

What makes this study so interesting is the fact that members of each group, when questioned about how the music made them feel, reported different emotional responses, despite having the same physiological response. “This crowd-789652_640suggests that subjective emotional ratings might have been more subject to cultural influences than physiological responses to the stimuli.”

The complexity of intellect and emotion attached to the physiological response to music is amazing. Like Pavlov’s dog we feel sadness when a certain music is played, not because, as was believed in the past, the music itself is sad. The physiological response has been paired with other information which is triggered when the music plays.

The ideas in this study, I believe, can be applied beyond music. For instance, everything we experience with any of our senses can produce a physiological response and attached to that is a body of emotional and intellectual information that defies mere explanation. How can understanding these responses help us to better facilitate learning, more easily solve our most important social issues, and better understand ourselves?

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Do You Want to Play?

You might say you wish you were good at playing an instrument. You might believe that musical talent, and perhaps all talents (sciences, languages, drama, etc) are something you are born with. Over the years I’ve come to think this belief is completely wrong.

There are studies (which I alluded to in the Bruce Lee post) that demonstrate that people gain expertise through an investment of time and energy – through practice. Anyone can play! Waiting for a divine gift of talent will probably only be an exercise in frustration… If you don’t put in your own energy, the most likely outcome will be nothing!

To play for pleasure, which most musicians do, you need a smaller time investment than you would need to become an expert. Pros play for 4 – 8 hours a day! As a hobbyist, half an hour to an hour a few days a week would probably be perfect.

So ask yourself, “do I really want to play?” If the answer is yes, the next question is “what?” What kind of music do you like? What instrumental sound in the mix seems to always catch your ear?

The next step is to get yourself an instrument! I suggest an inexpensive one – just in case. It’s been argued that when a serious investment is made then you will be more motivated to practice… I’ve seen that this doesn’t always work.

Now, do a little research. Look for a little info about your instrument, who the best players are, maybe where there is a good teacher nearby, and by all means, make noise! Experiment with your instrument, see what kinds of sounds you can make. At first, it’s most common that everything you do will probably sound terrible!!!

The penultimate step is to find time in your busy schedule to play. This is usually the most difficult. Especially since we’ve been programmed to think it’s frivolous and selfish to play. The studies show that the benefits of playing an instrument go beyond just making music. It has positive effects on you intellectually, socially, and emotionally. It just happens to also be fun! Let yourself have fun.

Which brings us to the last step – enjoy.