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Canadian Researchers Found The More Bass In Music, The More You Dance — Even If You Can't Hear It

Lower frequencies may also influence other kinds of body movement. 🔊

MTL Blog, Associate Editor
​People dance at Montreal's Drum & Bass Collider. Right: DJ Melek performs on the MTL Bassix sound system.

People dance at Montreal's Drum & Bass Collider. Right: DJ Melek performs on the MTL Bassix sound system.

Researchers at a Canadian university have scientifically confirmed what 'bass heads' knew all along: the deeper the sound frequencies, the better for dancing. A new study from McMaster University finds electronic music with deeper bass makes people move their bodies more. The weird part is that study participants didn't know when more bass was present, but their bodies involuntarily moved more.

"Low pitches confer advantages in perception and movement timing and elicit stronger neural responses for timing compared to high pitches," wrote researchers.

The vibrations and the sounds associated with bass-heavy music increased "ratings of groove" — the pleasurable urge to move to music — among subjects of the study. They also helped with musical rhythm perception, even when the bass being played couldn't be picked up by the human ear.

Researchers specifically tested how imperceptible low-frequency stimulation impacts physical movement. They turned very-low-frequency (VLF) speakers on and off during a live electronic music concert and measured audience movement using motion capture.

They found movement increased when VLFs were present. Head movement speed for participants across over a dozen tests showed people moved more on average by 12% when VLFs were on.

"Because the VLFs were below or near auditory thresholds (and a subsequent experiment suggested they were undetectable), we believe this represents an unconscious effect on behaviour," researchers wrote.

They note that bass sounds and vibrations tend to "have intense physical and psychological effects… possibly reflecting effects on physiological arousal."

Based on the study, researchers suggest there may be cerebral pathways that link sound to behaviour, possibly modulated by the brain's reward system. Bodily functions linked to "groove, movement vigor, and/or timing dynamics," are all implicated.

It remains unclear whether low frequencies that aren't consciously detectable are limited to just making people want to dance, or if they can affect physical behaviour in other ways.

It might be time to start blasting bassy electronic music in grocery stores, instead of the usual canned soundtrack, just to see.

This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

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