The hypnotic power of music explored

by Harry Shelton

If you read reviews of live concerts you often come across some of the same hyperbolic words. The reviewer will say that the concert was bewitching, that they were enchanted, that they felt like they were possessed. After reading a number of these reviews you can become a little frustrated. The reviewer clearly enjoyed the show but is there really any need to exaggerate so much? To say that a simple performance put a spell on them? A new study suggests that they may not be exaggerating at all, that a live concert actually has the power to possess us, sort of.

We have all been to gigs and felt like we tuned in perfectly with a performance. Like every beat speaks to us at a deeper level. New research suggests that it actually does. A study completed recently in East China Normal University in Shanghai suggests that there is something called inter-brain coherence that takes place between the performer and the audience at a concert.

The study got a violinist to perform 12 short pieces with a neutral expression for a camera. The video was then played to 16 undergraduate students. The audience were asked to rate the performance on a seven-point scale. At the same time as viewing, they were hooked up to a brain monitoring device. The device was used to measure how brain activity changed during the performance. 

The researchers found that the brain activity of the performer was mimicked by all the listeners during the performance. The more the listener enjoyed the music the more powerful the mirroring brain activity became. Researchers say that this shows the power of music at a new scientific level.

While we all know that music can be incredibly powerful, that it can tell a story and take us from moments of incredible joy to moments of incredible sorrow, the results reveal so much more. They show that not only are we tuned into the music we are actually tuned in with the brain activity of the performer as well.

Clearly more research is required to understand exactly what is causing the synchronization of brain activity. It is unlikely that we are actually under some magic spell by the performer although that would make the classic tale of the Pied Piper who stole all those children a lot scarier. Instead, it may be that the music we are all listening to or playing synchronizes us with the same pattern of brain activity. 

Whatever is the cause it helps to explain why live performances can feel like such powerful moments. We have all seen the videos of young girls screaming and collapsing as their favorite performers play onstage but even more normal (sorry girls) people are usually caught up in the magic of a live gig. We wait on every word of a performer and are carried on a journey. So much so most of us don’t even realize we have been standing for about three hours straight. 
The study reveals how intimate a live performance is whether there are 300 or 30,000 people in attendance. It shows that although music plays an important role in most people’s lives we know very little about the effect it has on people. This study really expands our understanding of music at its very core. In the future more research is required to really understand what is triggering this brain activity mapping and what can it be used for.

Political parties already use music to get audiences excited, with further research they may start to use music to control audiences even more. The power of music appears to be something that we don’t fully understand yet, but we are on our way.

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