Mystery Science

Secret Beats: Unseen Sounds Make You Dance Unconsciously

The impulse to dance at concerts may be influenced by sound frequencies below the threshold of human hearing, according to a recent study. Conducted during a concert by electronic music duo Orphx at McMaster University’s LIVELab, the research involved 66 participants wearing motion-capture marker headbands to track head movement. The study alternated very-low frequency (VLF) sounds (8–37 Hz) during the concert, discovering that when the VLFs were activated, participants exhibited 11.8% more head movement than when the frequencies were off. Although post-concert questionnaires revealed that attendees attributed their urge to move to bass frequencies, the researchers noted that dance intensity could be increased by VLFs without conscious awareness.

Jonathan Cannon, an assistant professor at McMaster University, emphasized the role of the vestibular system in mediating the sense of balance and body position during dancing. The study, published in the journal Current Biology on November 7, suggests that dance intensity may be augmented by VLFs without individuals being consciously aware of the influence. The findings align with previous research on factors influencing behavior outside direct human awareness.

However, the study faces limitations, with considerations about the surrounding crowd’s impact on dancing behavior. Cannon highlighted the potential effect of touch on movement, proposing that low-frequency sound may create vibrations felt through the floor, influencing participant movement. Suggesting further research focus on individual responses to eliminate crowd effects, Cannon also expressed interest in studying individuals with impaired hearing to determine if low-frequency sounds affect them differently, providing insights into potential circumvention of auditory system components.

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