Music really IS a universal language

The planet is covered with a multitude of cultures so diverse that it's no surprise that they sometimes don't get along, according to Daily Mail.   

But through all their differences, researchers have found the one thing that they seem to share: music. 

A recent study has found global links between musical form and vocals, meaning that a love ballad will sound the same no matter what culture it originates in.

 The study asked 750 internet users from 60 different countries to listen to 14-second excerpts from songs.

The songs traversed a variety of places from around the world and included tracks from less commonly heard societies, such as hunter-gatherers or cattle farmers.

Participants were then asked to answer six questions about how they perceived the songs, whether its purpose was for dancing or to express love, for instance.

Songs in the study could have also been linked to soothing a baby, healing an illness, mourning the dead or for telling a story - but only four types of song were actually present, according to researchers.

The data after more than 26,000 excerpts were listened to reveal an accurate description of the song's function cross-culturally.

Manvir Singh, one of the study's co-authors, said: 'We show that our shared psychology produces fundamental patterns in that transcend our profound culture differences.

'This suggests that our emotional and behavioural responses to aesthetic stimuli are remarkably similar across widely diverging populations.'

This was surprising to the researchers because most people believe that music is shaped by culture and across the animal kingdom there are links between form and function in vocalisation.  

When an eagle screeches, for instance, it sounds hostile to naive human listeners. 

But it wasn't clear, until now, whether the same concept held in human song.  

Psychologist Dr Mehr, co-author of the study said: 'Despite the staggering diversity of music influenced by countless cultures and readily available to the modern listener, our shared human nature may underlie basic musical structures that transcend cultural differences.' 

In a second experiment the researchers asked 1,000 internet users to rate the excerpts for the number of singers, their gender and the amount of instruments. 

They also rated them for melodic and rhythmic complexity, tempo, beat, arousal, valence and pleasantness. 

The researchers identified some relationship between those musical features and song function. 

But it wasn't enough to explain the way people were able to so reliably detect a song's function. 

One of the most intriguing findings, Dr Mehr explained, relates to the relationship between lullabies and dance songs. 

He said: 'Not only were users best at identifying songs used for those functions, but their musical features seem to oppose each other in many ways.'

Dance songs were generally faster, rhythmically and melodically complex, and perceived by participants as 'happier' and 'more exciting'. 

Lullabies, on the other hand, were slower, rhythmically and melodically simple, and perceived as 'sadder' and 'less exciting.' 

The researchers are now conducting these tests in listeners who live in isolated, small-scale societies and have never heard music other than that of their own cultures. 

They are also further analysing the music of many cultures to try to figure out how their particular features relate to function and whether those features themselves might be universal.

N.H.Kh

Share