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Hallie Golden

The science of why we like — and dislike — certain music


Why do we like the music we do? The Week's Hallie Golden takes a closer look at the science behind why we come back to certain songs over and over again. It has to do with consonance.

This article originally appeared on The Week

Take a second and think of your favorite song. Is it James Blunt's "You're beautiful"? Or maybe Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours"? Whatever tune you're thinking of, if it's a pop hit released in the past 40 years, chances are good it's made up of chords with one extremely popular trait: consonance.

Our love for consonant intervals is well documented. Scientists and mathematicians at least as far back as Pythagoras have observed that certain intervals, like the octave, are mathematically perfect. In the West, those intervals today are known as consonant, and are widely considered more pleasant to the ear than their less than perfect peers: dissonant intervals.

For years, scientists thought these distinct interval preferences were hardwired into our biology; in other words, that our brains are wired to prefer one sound over another — nature over nurture, if you will. But a new study seems to squash that theory. The results, published recently in the journal Nature, suggest it is not biology that dictates our musical tastes, but rather hundreds of years' of learned behavior.

"This raises the possibility that it might be possible to develop the opposite preference given enough exposure to dissonant music," says Josh McDermott, an author of the study and assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Though that has yet to be demonstrated." He explains more in the video below...

...See the full article by Hallie Golden at theweek.com

Tags : science of music