How has technology influenced music?

How music changes our perception

Subtle manipulation: It is no coincidence that we like to play romantic music to cuddle. Because the music influences our perception of touch, as an experiment shows. We involuntarily perceive a gentle caress as more sensual when the appropriate music is playing - and that regardless of who is touching us. Because this subtle manipulation of our senses works even when a robot is stroking us.

Music is deeply anchored in our nature: even unborn babies react to harmonious sounds, music arouses great emotions and can even have a healing effect - for mind and body at the same time. Even our gene activity changes when we listen to music.

Music influences the sensation of touch

Researchers working with Tom Fritz from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences have now discovered another effect of music. For their study, they examined how different pieces of music affect touch. The highlight: The touch was made "incognito" - behind a curtain. The test subjects therefore did not know whether a robot was stroking them with a brush or a human.

It turned out that what music we listen to also influences how we perceive touch. “We have observed that the more seductive we feel the music we hear, the more seductive we are,” explains Fritz. "Certain characteristics of the music seem to be transferred to the touch stimulus."

Also works with the robot

The interesting thing about it: Even when the test subjects learned before the experiment that they were being petted not by a real person but by a robot, the music influenced how sexy the touch was perceived. This proves that the transfer effects of music to touch must be based on very fundamental mechanisms - and not on the idea of ​​a person of a certain gender and level of attractiveness.

Even if the test subjects knew that a robot was performing the gentle petting, the music worked. © MPI CBS

A possible explanation could be that the emotional expression of individual musical sounds follows the same dynamic as that of a touch. In terms of its rhythm, a sad sound is processed in a similar way to a sad touch, an aggressive sound similar to an aggressive touch. Accordingly, for more precise processing of music, we access areas in the brain that are responsible for both touch and movement.

Social putty

“Our results also show the evolutionary importance of music as a social technology,” explains Fritz. By influencing our perception, the right music can help create a positive group feeling. It guides our behavior in groups but also in relationships and can ultimately even influence our sexual selection and reproduction.

As the researchers explain, their findings contradict a hypothesis of the well-known cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, according to which music is only an “auditory cheesecake”, i.e. a pleasant dessert. In his view, music is therefore of little importance from an evolutionary point of view and no more than a by-product of language. However, according to Fritz and his colleagues, the profound effect of the music speaks against this thesis. (Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2017; doi: 10.1037 / xge0000329)

(Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, September 6, 2017 - NPO)

6th September 2017