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Study finds it is nearly impossible not to move along to music

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Dancing may not come naturally to everyone, but a new study finds that we all move to the rhythm of music, whether we want to or not.

Researchers in Norway measured the micro-movements of people when music was played and found it was virtually impossible for them to stand completely still.

‘Nobody has managed it so far,’ says Alexander Refsum Jensenius, a professor of music technology at the University of Oslo.

Music with a strong steady beat elicited the most movement, especially electronic dance music. 

While laying to Norwegian folk music or traditional Indian music, which have less regular beats, didn’t increase micro-movements as much compared to silence. 

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Researchers in Norway measured the micro-movements of people when music was played and found it was virtually impossible for them to stand completely still.'Nobody has managed it so far,' says Alexander Refsum Jensenius, a professor at the University of Oslo

Researchers in Norway measured the micro-movements of people when music was played and found it was virtually impossible for them to stand completely still. ‘Nobody has managed it so far,’ says Alexander Refsum Jensenius, a professor at the University of Oslo

Jensenius has been conducting experiments on human micro-movements, even going so far as to organize the Norwegian Championships of Standstill.

It turns out even when you think you’re motionless, you’re moving a little bit.

‘On average you sway your head seven millimeters per second when you’re trying to stand still.’ says Jensenius.

The winner of the Standstill contest managed to sway just 3.9 millimeters per second.

‘People stand still in very similar ways,’ Jensenius said, adding that the results don’t vary much by height, age, gender or even time standing.

‘You might think that we would get tired and start to move more after a while, or vice versa, but it’s completely linear.’

Perhaps not surprisingly, dance music fueled micro-movements the most. And electronic dance music, or EDM, had the greatest effect. Playing to Norwegian folk music or traditional Indian music, which have less regular beats, didn't increase micro-movements as much compared to silence

Perhaps not surprisingly, dance music fueled micro-movements the most. And electronic dance music, or EDM, had the greatest effect. Playing to Norwegian folk music or traditional Indian music, which have less regular beats, didn’t increase micro-movements as much compared to silence

If true stillness is hard, researchers have learned it’s virtually impossible when music is played.

Jensenius and his team at the RITMO center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Rhythm, Time and Motion tried a variety of rhythmic effects on test subjects, from just turning on a metronome to playing popular tunes.

‘The metronome makes us move more than when standing still in silence. It shows that the beat is important,’ he said. ‘But the more complex the music, the more things start to happen.’

Perhaps not surprisingly, dance music fueled micro-movements the most. And electronic dance music, or EDM, had the greatest effect.

‘When you dance to EDM music, the details create the energy,’ Jensenius said. ‘The song builds up, lifts and drops. This makes us move with increasing amounts of energy on the dance floor.’

Even when we’re trying to stand still, ‘the music makes us sway, he said, ‘whether we want to or not.’ 

Dance music’s quick temp acts as a trigger, but any kind of music with a regular beat – from EDM to classical – inspires movement.

Playing to Norwegian folk music or traditional Indian music, which have less regular beats, didn’t increase micro-movements as much compared to silence.

Listening to music on your headphones increased micro-movements even more, Jensenius said, ‘because you are shut inside your own bubble – physically and mentally.’

Closing your eyes has the same impact, he added, about 2 millimeters more per second.

Whether or not someone liked to dance or played an instrument didn’t seem to have much of an effect.

People who scored as highly empathetic did move more than others, Jensenius said, which is in line with studies showing empathic people interact more with their environment.

Jensenius says while not everyone is a superstar on the dance floor, his research shows we all have a connection to rhythm, even people who think they’re ‘hopeless.’

‘It is nearly impossible to even walk down the street, or talk and listen to others without having a sense of rhythm,’ he said. ‘Life is a dance—literally!’ 

IS MUSIC A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE?

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 Harvard-led research 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, revealed an accurate description of the song’s function cross-culturally.

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