And by extension, like and dislike certain audio equipment?
"For years, scientists thought these distinct interval preferences were hardwired into our biology; in other words, that our brains are wired to prefer one sound over another — nature over nurture, if you will. But a new study seems to squash that theory. The results, published recently in the journal Nature, suggest it is not biology that dictates our musical tastes, but rather hundreds of years’ of learned behavior."
Large, like Salimpoor, says that this difference in preference is due to how our neurons are wired together, which in turn is based on our own, personal history of listening to or performing music. Rhythm is all about predictability, he says, and our predictions about music start forming from a pretty early age onward. He points to the work of Erin Hannon at the University of Nevada who found that babies as young as 8 months old already tune into the rhythms of the music from their own cultural environment.
So while activity in the nucleus accumbens may signal emotional pleasure, it doesn’t explain it, says Large. Learning does. That’s why musicians—who’ve usually been exposed to more complicated musical patterns over time—tend to have more varied musical tastes and enjoy more avant-garde musical traditions than non-musicians. Social contexts are also important, he adds, and can affect your emotional responses.
“Liking is so subjective,” he says. “Music may not sound any different to you than to someone else, but you learn to associate it with something you like and you’ll experience a pleasure response.”