The hot scientific pursuit is putting people in fMRI machines and recording their brain activity while certain things happen. On his excellent blog The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer discusses the findings of a recent experiment where scientists recorded brain activity while the subjects listened to music:
There are two interesting takeaways from this experiment. The first is that music hijacks some very fundamental neural mechanisms. The brain is designed to learn by association: if this, then that. Music works by subtly toying with our expected associations, enticing us to make predictions about what note will come next, and then confronting us with our prediction errors.
The second takeaway is that music requires surprise, the dissonance of “low-probability notes”. While most people think about music in terms of aesthetic beauty – we like pretty consonant pitches arranged in pretty patterns – that’s exactly backwards. The point of the prettiness is to set up the surprise, to frame the deviance. (That’s why the unexpected pitches triggered the most brain activity, synchronizing the activity of brain regions involved in motor movement and emotion.)
As a musician, those conclusions reinforce my own layman’s observations about music appreciation. The definition of music appreciation that Jonah compares this to is, in my opinion, pretty unsophisticated.
My question is: how to we explain why some people like totally predictable music? (I admit, there’s a lot of snobbery in that generalization)