Your brain is not made for pop music

Mbenzele participants


Tribal people are not interested in earworms

… Deep inside the Bolivian part of the Amazon rainforest where the Tsimane people belong. A place you can only get to with several days of canoeing, and where there is no electricity.
Their music culture has largely not been influenced by Western influences. In addition, the tribal people have not had a tradition of singing or playing together but have only been in the habit of listening to one singer or one musical instrument at a time.
Researchers from i.a. MIT has published an article in Nature describing how we learn to ‘enjoy’ the difference between dissonance and consonance – something that is especially used in popular music.

Din hjerne er ikke bygget til popmusik
A Bolivian woman living in an isolated tribe in the Amazon rainforest is listening to Western-inspired soundtracks for the first time in her life. She and the other tribesmen did not value good-sounding bits more than non-sounding, as other people do. So the ability to appreciate Western music culture is hardly innate but more closely learned, new research suggests. Photo: Josh McDermott

“It’s a very interesting study. Ever since the Middle Ages, music theory circles have debated whether the ability to decode consonance and dissonance is innate, or whether one should be exposed to Western music before developing the ability. The American experiment indicates that this is the last thing that is the case, “says music theorist and brain researcher Niels Chr. Hansen from the Basic Research Center Center for Music in the Brain, Aarhus at Aarhus University and the Jutland Conservatory of Music.

That is, if one played for the tribal people a monster hit like ‘Needed Me’ with Rihanna, ‘One Dance’ with Drake or ‘Send My Love’ with Adele, they probably would not be able to sense the tensions and redemptions that the numbers contain and which many in the rest of the world appreciate.
“The music that we experience in excitement as waves and valleys, the isolated tribesmen will experience as flat and quite obviously uninteresting. So they probably will not get carried away, as we do when we listen to pop music or other western music genres, “says Niels Chr. Hansen.



A similar study conducted in Congo by anthropologists from McGill University and the University of Montreal of January, 2015 entitled ” Why Pygmies Aren’t Scared By The ‘Psycho’ Theme “, showed results that confirm the hypothesis that our enthusiasm for Western music is learned.

Mbenzele participants
Men from the Mbenzele Pygmy ethnic group listen to Western music for the first time while an anthropologist measures their vital signs, such as heart rate and skin perspiration.

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