Music is subjective to those who are listening to it, according to a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In today’s Science Wednesday, PBS Newshour looked at the study that could settle the dispute of whether music is pleasurable because of biology or culture.
Published in Nature, the study focused on the responses from members of the Tsimane tribe from Bolivia that had little to no exposure to Western music and compared them to that of Bolivian and American populations that did have that exposure. The results showed that those of the Tsimane tribe found both consonant and dissonant tones pleasurable, while Bolivian and American populations preferred consonant.
The study was authored by Josh McDermott, an MIT cognitive neuroscientist.
From PBS Newshour:
“Consonance seems like such a simple phenomenon, and in Western music there’s strong supposition that it’s biological,” McDermott said. “But this study suggests culture is more important than many people acknowledge.”
Delving deeper, McDermott took the Tsimane tribe’s own music, which evolved outside of Western influence, and tweaked it to include dissonant and consonant tones. Again, the tribe showed no preference.
“The Tsimane do prefer pleasant vocalizations, such as laughter, to unpleasant gasps,” Robert Zatorre, a neurologist who has also studied the Tsimane tribe, wrote in an accompanying op-ed. “They understood what was being asked of them.”
According to Newshour, this is the first study that has actively applied the theory that consonance is culturally socialized to a group ignorant to Western music theory.