Why Music is Addictive

Music is the food for the soul – it has the ability to captivate us. Listeners follow music closely, getting invested in what they hear. So what is it about music that keeps the audience engaged?
Why Music is Addictive

Researchers from The City College of New York and the University of Arkansas charted new ground in understanding the neural responses to music. Although the impact of music gets frequently examined, the link between engagement with music given the limits of self-report has been difficult to study. Keeping this in mind, Jens Madsen and Lucas Parra of the CCNY’s Grove School of Engineering measured the synchronization of brainwaves in an audience. 

The research found that the neural responses of listeners are in sync with each other when listening to music – exhibiting inter-subject correlation of brainwaves which is a measure of engagement.

Published in the latest issue of Scientific Reports, the findings say that a listener's engagement decreases with repetition of music but only for familiar music pieces. On the other hand, unfamiliar musical styles can sustain an audience's interest – particularly for individuals with some musical training.

"Across repeated exposures to instrumental music, inter-subject correlation decreased for music written in a familiar style," wrote the researchers and collaborators. 

Furthermore, the study found that participants with formal musical training showed more inter-subject correlation and sustained it across exposures to music in an unfamiliar style. The result distinguishes music from other domains, where interest drops with repetition.

"What is so cool about this, is that by measuring people's brainwaves we can study how people feel about music and what makes it so special." said Madsen.

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