Why we like the music we do

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imagesNew study suggests that musical tastes are cultural in origin, not hardwired in the brain. | By Anne Trafton via MIT News Office
Brandeis University professor Ricardo Godoy conducts the experiment in a village in the Bolivian rainforest.
The participants were asked to rate the pleasantness of various sounds, and Godoy recorded their response.
In Western styles of music, from classical to pop, some combinations of notes are generally considered more pleasant than others.
To most of our ears, a chord of C and G, for example, sounds much more agreeable than the grating combination of C and F# (which has historically been known as the “devil in music”).
For decades, neuroscientists have pondered whether this preference is somehow hardwired into our brains. A new study from MIT and Brandeis University suggests that the answer is no.
In a study of more than 100 people belonging to a remote Amazonian tribe with little or no exposure to Western music, the researchers found that dissonant chords such as the combination of C and F were rated just as likeable as “consonant” chords, which feature simple integer ratios between the acoustical frequencies of the two notes.
“This study suggests that preferences for consonance over dissonance depend on exposure to Western musical culture, and that the preference is not innate,” says Josh McDermott, the Frederick A. and Carole J. Middleton Assistant Professor of Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT.

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