Medical Mysteries of Music

Published on November 22nd, 2017 | by Alan Cross

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Got a Friend with Terrible Taste in Music? Magnets Might Help.

We all know someone with wretched musical taste. No matter how much we try to help and educate, their idea of good music continues to suck. I, for example, have a good friend who believes that all the best music was made in the middle 80s. He believes with his heart and soul that Rick Astley is a genius. Rickrolling? His whole life is an intentional rickroll. The Beatles? Meh. Anything with a guitar? Just noise.

Believe me, I’ve tried and tried to help this poor guy. CDs, playlists, alcohol. Next up is dragging him to a show by someone like U2 just to prove to him that there’s more to life than “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

But maybe I’m on the wrong track, What I really need are magnets.

According to researchers at McGill University in Montreal, magnets can be used to change your musical tastes in minutes through careful stimulation of the brain. They discovered that they could increase or decrease the enjoyment people derived from music. A little magnetic zap to the front of the band was all it took.

It worked like this. Seventeen volunteers were asked to listen to different pieces of music and told to rate how much pleasure they derived from listening to each individual song. Then they were offered an opportunity to buy the songs using their own cash. As this was going on, each subject was zapped using a technique called “transcranial magnetic stimulation.” When a certain part of the brain was stimulated by these magnetic fields, they rated songs much higher and were willing to spend up to 10% more to acquire those songs. When turned around–i.e. when that area of the brain was inhibited–the subjects rated songs lower and also dropped the amount of money they’d be willing to pay for them by 15%.

Why? Dopamine. The transcranial magnetic stimulation either increased and decreased the amount of the body’s feel-good hormone as the music played. Stimulation as the music played increased the level of dopamine in the blood, increasing the level of pleasure the subjects derived from that music. And vice-versa.

I should point out that the purpose of this research wasn’t to mess with our musical tastes but to find ways of stimulating the brain to combat things like depression, addiction and Parkinson’s.

Magnets, man. How do they work?

More here.




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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker.

In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.


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