Current research : How music can ‘create’ happiness out of thin air

Jun 30th, 2011 | By | Category: Featured Articles, Neuroscience

In a recent study at Groningen University, Netherlands, more evidence has been provided in favour of the top-down mode of sensory data processing by our brain. Do we generally tend to see what we expect to see ?

For thousands of years the music and our ‘souls’ have been known to have profound relationship. Its effect on our mood, transmitted through earphones, is perhaps one of the most important reasons for the sustained growth of  digital music revolution. We use music for relieving monotony at work, for enhancing our spiritual and religious experiences, and for forging social bonds through the language of community based music.

Music has been used for therapy, creativity, and inducing states of mind this relevant to certain goals and practices. Love songs bolster the feeling the love, hate songs induce hatred, patriotic and nationalistic sounds have moved many men to valour in battle.

The question is not what you look at, but what you see.
– Henry David Thoreau

However a recent study shows that music can also change the way we perceive the world. This study from the University of Groningen demonstrates that ‘happy’ music can make faces appear happy, even though in reality they were not. The same thing applied to sad music and sad faces.

The explanation of this phenomenon lies in the top–down mode in which the brain processes visual information. The visual system in effect matches are visual input to our expectations. The authors of the study quote a recent investigation in which a black and white pictures of a banana was perceived by the participants as being slightly yellow, as their brains expected the picture to be yellow. This notion of the brain also known as ‘the Bayesian brain’ has received considerable support in the current scientific literature.

The current study clearly shows that when the happy music has been played, leading to a happy mood reported in the participants, even neutral faces drawn as diagrams on paper were perceived incorrectly as happy faces. The effect of mood on our visual perceptive mechanisms provides more support to the top-down theory of visual possessing, whereby we often see what we expect to see rather than what we are actually seeing.

Seeing can therefore be less objective than what we make it out to be.

Reference :

Jolij J, Meurs M, 2011 Music Alters Visual Perception. PLoS ONE 6(4): e18861. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018861

Full text link : http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0018861

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One Comment to “Current research : How music can ‘create’ happiness out of thin air”

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