Wednesday, December 26, 2012

imagination also comes from the moving centre

pnas | Music moves us. Its kinetic power is the foundation of human behaviors as diverse as dance, romance, lullabies, and the military march. Despite its significance, the music-movement relationship is poorly understood. We present an empirical method for testing whether music and movement share a common structure that affords equivalent and universal emotional expressions. Our method uses a computer program that can generate matching examples of music and movement from a single set of features: rate, jitter (regularity of rate), direction, step size, and dissonance/visual spikiness. We applied our method in two experiments, one in the United States and another in an isolated tribal village in Cambodia. These experiments revealed three things: (i) each emotion was represented by a unique combination of features, (ii) each combination expressed the same emotion in both music and movement, and (iii) this common structure between music and movement was evident within and across cultures.

nationalgeographic | “Only human.” It’s a downer of an idiom, used to convey the inevitable transgressions and inadequacies of our species. He cheated on his wife with a supermodel, but come on, he’s only human. No, she can’t write three blog posts a day and Tweet every hour and read historical biographies in her spare time, she’s only human.

But, really, what’s “only” about human biology, emotions, behaviors and history? At very least, they make for some good stories.

A cop in Florida once found a scientist dissecting an armadillo penis on the side of the road. A genetic screen made me reconsider my coffee habits. Poverty breaks down connections in a baby’s brain. Tourism in the Gal├ípagos is simultaneously funding conservation efforts and destroying the things that need to be conserved. Stories about people — what we’re made of, what we do, why we do it — are what interest me most, and what you’ll find on this blog.

I’m kicking off with a story about the (maybe) uniquely human capacity to feel emotion through music. Why does a lullaby soothe a newborn, a dirge console the grieving, and a KoRn song make you want to rip your ears out?

According to a study out yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, our cognitive connection to music may have evolved from an older skill, the ability to glean emotion from motion. People will choose the same combination of spatiotemporal features — a certain speed, rhythm, and smoothness — whether pairing a particular emotion with a melody or with a cartoon animation, the study found. But most surprising, the results held true in people from two starkly different cultures: a rural village in Cambodia and a college campus in New England.

The study dates to an afternoon in the spring of 2008, when Beau Sievers sat down for a class on the origins of music at Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire. Sievers, a composer, was working on a Master’s degree in something called electroacoustic music (now called digital musics), an unusual program for people who want to study relationships between music, technology and cognitive science. That afternoon the class heard from a guest lecturer, psychology professor Thalia Wheatley, whose neuroimaging studies had pinpointed some of the brain regions involved in perceiving motion. Other labs had found that some of the very same regions activate during music perception, giving Wheatley the idea that the two skills are somehow linked in the mind. She presented the general hypothesis to Sievers’s class, adding that she hadn’t yet found a rigorous and quantitative way to test it.

After class, Sievers asked Wheatley if he could work on that for his Master’s thesis. She said sure, and over the next few months, the duo came up with a clever experiment.


Rasa Kumsare said...

And is it possible to find this experiment somewhere? Right now Im writing my bachelor Theses with a tittle "Music is Movement".

CNu said...

CNu said...

You are most welcome. Good luck with that thesis!

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