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Synchronised brainwaves: Why music is more enjoyable when it’s live

By studying EEG data, researchers in Canada have found people gain maximum enjoyment from music experienced as part of a collective

By Jon Chapple on 11 Apr 2018

Live music audience

image © shbs/Pixabay

The brainwaves of music listeners synchronise better when they attend a concert, demonstrating that people enjoy music more when it’s live and experienced as part of a group, according to a new study.

Hot on the heels of recent research from the UK that revealed going to concerts is better for one’s wellbeing than doing yoga, scientists in Canada have found when individuals attend a live show and listen to music as a group, their brainwaves synchronise, or entrain – a bond that indicates each individual is having a better time as part of a collective.

The findings are a reminder that humans are social creatures, says neuroscientist Jessica Grahn, a professor at Western University in London, Ontario, who co-led the study.

Using McMaster University’s LIVELab concert hall, Dr Grahn’s research team hired a band to perform for 24 participants in the audience, simultaneously measuring their brainwave data while also taking motion captures of how people move to both live and recorded music, according to Neuroscience News.

“We thought it would be neat to use the LIVELab to look at people listening to live music and recorded music and look at how social bonding is affected and how our brainwave synchrony is affected,” she explains.

“With live music, you get greater synchrony between the audience members”

Researchers collected electroencephalography (EEG) data from participants and looked at how well synchronised their brainwaves became.

“It turns out that in the live music condition, you get greater synchrony between the audience members than you do in the recorded condition or the condition where it’s recorded and you don’t have much of an audience to interact with,” Dr Grahn continues.

The study, ‘What makes musical rhythm special: cross-species, developmental and social perspectives’, found synchronisation is greatest in the presence of live performers. It is less so when watching a recording of the performance as a larger group and even lesser when watching that recording in a small group.

Dr Grahn’s research also shows some evidence that one of the reasons music evolved is because it allows large groups of people to synchronise their movement. When people move together, there is evidence they feel a sense of community and more altruistic, she explains.

A previous study in Australia, published in early 2016, found live music can have a positive effect on mood and increase happiness.

 


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