One of the most basic and universal responses a person can have to music is engagement. When listeners are engaged with music, they follow the sounds closely, connecting in an effective; invested way to what they hear. Despite the importance of this engagement; it was difficult to study given the limits of self-report and physiological measures; especially in a domain like classical music where listeners are accustomed to sitting quietly without providing overt evidence of their internal experience.
A domain with a similar problem is the film; where viewers might sustain powerfully involving experiences, but remain motionless and silent in their seat. Dmochowski et al. show that inter-subject correlation in neural activity as measured by EEG corresponds with arousing moments such as a close-up of a weapon within rich cinematic narratives; but not within casual footage of everyday life.
Listeners engage with music
Music has the ability to captivate us; when listeners engage with music; they follow its sounds closely; connecting to what they hear in an effective and invested way. But what is it about music that keeps the audience engaged? A study by researchers from The City College of New York and the University of Arkansas charts new ground in understanding the neural responses to music.
Despite the importance, it was difficult to study engagement with music given the limits of self-report. This led Jens Madsen and Lucas Parra, from CCNY’s Grove School of Engineering; to measure the synchronization of brainwaves in an audience. When a listener is engaged with music; their neural responses are in sync with that of other listeners, thus inter-subject correlation of brainwaves is a measure of engagement.
The repetition of music
A listener’s engagement decreases with repetition of music, but only for familiar music pieces. However, unfamiliar musical styles can sustain an audience’s interest; in particular for individuals with some musical training. Across repeated exposures to instrumental music, inter-subject correlation decreased for music written in a familiar style; ” Parra and his collaborators write in Scientific Reports.
In addition, participants with formal musical training showed more inter-subject correlation and sustained it across exposures to music in an unfamiliar style. This distinguishes music from other domains; where interest drops with repetition. What is so cool about this, is that by measuring people’s brainwaves they can study how people feel about music and what makes it so special. the musical pieces played for the participants and what was measured.”Music synchronizes brainwaves across listeners with strong effects of repetition, familiarity, and training.