As it turns out, music is far more universal than we give it credit for. In fact, music—or our recognition of it—is apparently literally in our brains.
As reported by New York Times, there are very specific parts of the human brain that are primarily dedicated to music according to a groundbreaking M.I.T. study conducted by Nancy Kanwisher, Josh H. McDermott and Sam Norman-Haignere.
These same parts, to contrast, don’t activate when other sounds—such as human speech—is heard. The researchers also noted that there is some overlap when music with lyrics is listened to.
The question asked at the onset of this study was a simple one: What are the salient categories of the human auditory system? That is, does the brain assign specific sounds to specific bits of gray matter so that we can recognize them in the future?
Gathering 165 distinct sounds (some of which you can listen to here) and 10 volunteers who were tasked to listen to those soundbytes multiple times, the data showed that there were six ways in which the brain would categorize the noise.
Four of those categories were linked to general physical properties of sound (pitch, frequency, etc.). The fifth of those categories was linked to speech. The final category responded to every single music-related soundbyte (“the sound of solo drummer, whistling, pop songs, rap…”) that the volunteers listened to.
Prior to this study, music perception was only thought to use other parts of the human brain, tapping into the “motor system, speech circuitry, and social understanding” to make sense of it.
It has yet to be uncovered as to what properties of music—or acoustic features of music—actually do the stimulating. Regardless, it’s interesting to consider what someone’s brain may look like and if the music-dedicated parts of the brain light up when they’re listening to music they deem to be bad.
Related: The Psychology of Pop Music in 2016