It’s the bass that makes us boogie
- December 9, 2022
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Karen Hopkin: This is Scientific American’s 60 Second Science. I’m Karen Hopkins.
Hopkin: Have you ever noticed that some music actually makes you dance?
Well, a new study shows that it really is all about the bass. Because researchers have found that during a concert, boosting the bass increases boogying. The results appear in the journal Current Biology.
Daniel Cameron: Music and musical rhythm have fascinated me since I was a child. Especially the way they make us feel.
Hopkin: Daniel Cameron is a postdoctoral fellow at McMaster University. He also plays drums.
Cameron: As a drummer you’re interested in getting the crowd to move and feel comfortable and have a good sense of time. And that has to do with my work in science.
Hopkin: Cameron and his colleagues want to understand how music can create an almost irrepressible urge to feel our bodies in motion.
Cameron: And we knew from anecdotes and other experimental evidence that there was a connection between bass and dancing.
Hopkin: Well, people who like electronic dance music or EDM report that the booming bass creates a feeling that makes them want to move. And some studies have shown that when we’re fixated on bass notes, our movements are more finely tuned.
Cameron: For example, if you have people tapping along with a sequence of tones, their tapping will be a little more accurate, they’ll be more synchronized…when those tones are a low frequency versus a high frequency.
Hopkin: So the researchers set out to determine the following:
Cameron: If you add more bass to the music, will that lead to more dancing?
Hopkin: Well, they didn’t want to manipulate the bass line in any obvious way. Because then people could consciously decide to intensify their appearance.
Cameron: That might be interesting…
Hopkin: But it would also cloud the results … like when someone in a drug trial knows they’re getting the real deal and not a placebo.
Cameron: So we wanted to do a subtle manipulation, a very consciously undetectable manipulation.
Hopkin: So they put out a line of speakers with very, very low frequencies.
Cameron: These are specialized speakers. Sort of like sub subwoofer. People may have subwoofers as part of their stereo. And these are speakers that reproduce even lower frequencies than most systems can. Even lower frequencies than we think are usually audible.
Hopkin: The researchers put on a concert with their special speakers.
Cameron: We invited the electronic music duo Orphx to our LIVELab.
Hopkin: This is LIVE…LIVE… for large, interactive virtual environments. It’s like a cross between a performance space and a laboratory.
Cameron: The people who came to the show were fans of the group. They wanted to come and see EDM. They wanted to dance. And while they were there, we asked them if they would volunteer to take part in our experiment. And a lot of people signed up.
Hopkin: The recruits donned headbands with motion-capture reflectors…which the researchers used to track their movements.
Cameron: And then during the concert we just turned on these speakers with very low frequencies, left them on for two and a half minutes and turned them off again. Leave them out for two and a half minutes. Turn back on for two and a half minutes. Off for two and a half minutes. on off on off Throughout the concert.
Hopkin: Now you can’t hear when the speakers are on. And…based on the surveys filled out after the show…and a follow-up study of the manipulated audio clips…the concert-goers couldn’t either. But her feet knew something was up.
Cameron: What we found when we looked at the motion capture data was that people just moved more – they covered more ground, they moved faster – when the low frequency speakers were on. So that tells us that… the extra bass, those very, very low frequencies, caused more movement.
Hopkin: About 12 percent more movement and groove. So the concert… and the experiment… was a success. The best…
Cameron: People enjoyed the concert. And… the more people moved, the more they enjoyed the concert.
Hopkin: Which shouldn’t be a surprise.
Cameron: Dancing and having fun really go hand in hand. It’s something we like to do with music, it’s a pleasant response, and we’re showing with this work that bass is part of that mix.
Hopkin: Next, Cameron says he’d like to see if Bass can help bring us together.
Cameron: So people are more likely to feel good and help each other out when they have some experience synchronizing their movements. And dancing is a great and fun way to do it. This could be related to why we find dance in all cultures and throughout history for the human species. It’s a fundamental part of being human.
Hopkin: To avoid conflict, maybe just crank up the bass and slice up the dance floor.
Hopkin: For Scientific American’s 60 Second Science, I’m Karen Hopkin.
The above is a transcript of this podcast.