Music preference is largely shaped by society


A recent study led by Josh McDermott, a cognitive scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, suggests that the type of music a person likes to listen to is mostly influenced by the society around them and the type of music they grew up hearing. Scientists have long been wondering if a person is born with their taste in music, but McDermott looks to have found out what causes people to like the music they like. After researching five different groups of adults, two groups from the United States and the rest from Bolivia, and studying their music preferences, McDermott concluded that exposure to particular types of music influences what we like to hear. The groups of adults from the United States strongly preferred consonant chords, or chords that are in harmony together, which is expected as most Western music use consonant chords. Two of the three Bolivian groups preferred consonant chords as well, but one did not have a preference. However, most of those from the Bolivian groups who played instruments either had no preference or preferred dissonant chords, which are chords that lack harmony and are widely considered unpleasant. “The preference for consonance has often been proposed as a basic building block of human music,” McDermott notes. “Our findings suggest that this is not the case.”  McDermott believes the research his team has done has proved that harmonious music is not necessarily favored by everyone.

McDermott’s study shows that you are most likely to enjoy the type of music that you have been hearing your whole life and are popular in your society. This makes a lot of sense as many people of the same country or parts of countries enjoy the same kind of music. For example, hip-hop and rap has recently become a favorite genre of music among American teenagers, especially in big cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. This is likely due to the fact that teenagers have been hearing this kind of music more and more frequently, so they have grown acquired to the sound. Our music preferences look to be a product of the music we are exposed to. Although biology, or the way our brains are wired, definitely have some effect on the types of music we enjoy, it does not account for the types of music we are exposed to and therefore listen to. When people are regularly hearing certain types of music, then those are the types of music they will become accustomed to and enjoy. If all types of music were played equally all around the world, who knows what genres would become the most popular?

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