Music might be the food of love but the sound that sets hearts aflutter does not travel between cultures, suggests a new study.
Whilst people could instantly recognize a lullaby or dance music, they were much more uncertain about love songs belonging to a different background.
Researchers at Yale University played 14-second snippets of vocals from a bank of songs that originated from a host of cultures to more than 5,000 people from 49 countries.
The research team included subjects not only from the industrialized world but more than 100 individuals who live in three small, relatively isolated groups of no more than 100.
“All around the world, people sing in similar ways. Music is deeply rooted in human social interaction,” said Senior author Professor Samuel Mehr.
For the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team played subjects the snippets then asked them to rank each as being one of four music types: dance, lullabies, “healing” music, or love music.
This experiment was performed in 31 languages, yet regardless of the language people from all cultures could easily identify dance music, lullabies, and, to a lesser extent, even music created to heal.
Recognition of what the researchers identified as love songs, however, lagged these other categories.
When the team analyzed responses based on language groupings, they found that 27 of the 28 groups correctly rated dance, all 28 were able to identify lullabies but only 12 of the 28 groups were able to identify love songs.
“One reason for this could be that love songs may be a particularly fuzzy category that includes songs that express happiness and attraction, but also sadness and jealousy,” said Lidya Yurdum Lead author and research assistant.
“Listeners who heard love songs from neighboring countries and in languages related to their own actually did a little better, likely because of the familiar linguistic and cultural clues.”
Apart from love songs it seems that most themes were universally recognized in music.
Yurdum added: “Listeners’ ratings were largely accurate, consistent with one another, and not explained by their linguistic or geographical proximity to the singer showing that musical diversity is underlain by universal psychological phenomena.
“Our minds have evolved to listen to music. It is not a recent invention.
“But if we only study songs from the Western world and listeners from the Western world, we can only draw conclusions about the Western world, not humans in general.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
Edited by Judy J. Rotich and Newsdesk Manager
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