Rhythm On The Brain, And Why We Can't Stop Dancing

 Sometimes we just have to move. Scott Robinson/Flickr, CC BY Sometimes we just have to move. Scott Robinson/Flickr, CC BY

A common feature of music and dance is rhythmic movement, which is often timed with a regular pulse-like beat. But the human capacity for rhythm presents something of a puzzle.

Even though rhythmic coordination seems fundamental to human nature, people vary widely in ability. Some have the machine-like precision of Michael Jackson, others are closer to the case of “beat-deaf” Mathieu.

What are the underlying causes of these individual differences? By looking at the way the brain responds to rhythm, we can begin to understand why many of us can’t help but to move to a beat.

Power of rhythm

Rhythm is a powerful force. It can regulate mood, ranging from the arousing effect of pounding war drums to the pacifying effect of gently rocking a baby. It can even induce altered states of consciousness, as in spiritual rituals and shamanic traditions involving trance.

Rhythm and music can also be used for therapeutic purposes in the rehabilitation of conditions characterised by motor impairment, such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease.

Even more fundamentally, rhythmic skills displayed in the context of music and dance may have been essential to our evolution as a species.

In The Descent of Man (1871), Charles Darwin mused that:

it appears probable that the progenitors of man, either the males or females or both sexes, before acquiring the power of expressing their mutual love in articulate language, endeavoured to charm each other with musical notes and rhythm.

Rhythmically coordinated body movements may function similarly to fuel sexual attraction by providing an “honest” signal (one that can’t be faked) of an individual’s health and fitness.

Outside the competitive arena of finding a mate, coordinating with others through music and dance facilitates social cohesion by promoting interpersonal bonding, trust, and cooperation.


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

These prosocial effects of music and dance may have contributed to the flourishing of human culture by preventing the disintegration of early societies into antisocial mobs.

Today, they remain potent enough to be relied on, even in maximum security prisons.

Entrainment

But if music and dancing are so universal, why are some people simply unable to hold a rhythm?

The key to answering this question lies in how the human brain locks onto rhythms in the external environment, and how this process of “neural entrainment” supports the coordination of body movements.

Neural entrainment occurs when regular sensory input, like music with a clear beat, triggers periodic bursts of synchronised brain activity. This periodic activity can continue independently of external rhythmic input due to interactions between already excited neurons. It is as if they expect the sensory input to continue.

Entrainment can thus enhance processing of incoming information by allocating neural resources to the right place at the right time. When performing or dancing to music, entrainment allows the timing of upcoming beats to be predicted.

A recent study on individual differences in rhythmic skill identified relationships between the strength of neural entrainment and the capacity to synchronise movements with musical rhythms.

We measured entrainment to the underlying beat in two types of rhythm using electroencephalography (EEG), a technique where electrical signals reflecting neural activity are recorded via electrodes placed on the head.

One rhythm had a regular beat marked by periodically occurring sound onsets. The other was a relatively complex and jazzier “syncopated” rhythm in which sound onsets were not present on all beats: some were marked by silence.

Results indicated that the strength of neural entrainment was related to people’s ability to move in synchrony with the beat. Individuals with strong neural responses were more accurate at tapping a finger in time with the beat of the two rhythms.

We also found individual differences in brain responses to the two rhythms. While some individuals showed a large difference between strength of entrainment for the regular rhythm versus the syncopated rhythm, others showed only a small difference.

In other words: some people required external physical stimulation to perceive the beat, whereas others were able to generate the beat internally.
Remarkably, people who were good at internally generating beats also performed well on a synchronisation task that required them to predict tempo changes in musical sequences.

So the capacity for internal beat generation turns out to be a reliable marker of rhythmic skill. This adds new meaning to Miles Davis’ reported maxim that “in music, silence is more important than sound".

But we still don’t know why individual differences in the strength of neural entrainment occur in the first place. They may reflect the efficiency of neural responses at early levels of auditory processing, such as brainstem responses. Or the degree of connectivity between higher-level auditory and motor cortical regions.

Another open question is whether rhythmic skills can be boosted by recent advances in neuroscience. Brain stimulation techniques that induce neural synchrony at specific frequencies provide a promising method for enhancing entrainment and thereby improving an individual’s capacity for rhythm.

About The Author

keller peterPeter Keller, Professor of Cognitive Science, Western Sydney University. He leads the ‘Music Cognition and Action’ research program in the MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development at Western Sydney University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Related Books

at InnerSelf Market and Amazon

 

You May Also Like

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

INNERSELF VOICES

05 21 rewilding the imagination in dangerous times 5362430 1920
Rewilding the Imagination in Dangerous Times
by Natureza Gabriel Kram
In a world that often seems intent on destroying itself, I find myself curating beauty -- the kind…
group of multi-racial individuals standing for a group photo
Seven Ways You Can Show Respect to Your Diverse Team (Video)
by Kelly McDonald
Respect is profoundly meaningful, but costs nothing to give. Here are ways you can demonstrate (and…
elephant walking in front of a setting sun
Astrological Overview and Horoscope: May 16 - 22, 2022
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
photo of Leo Buscaglia from cover of his book: Living, Loving and Learning
How to Change Someone's Life in a Few Seconds
by Joyce Vissell
My life was changed dramatically when someone took that second to point out my beauty.
a composite photograph of a total lunar eclipse
Astrological Overview and Horoscope: May 9 - 15, 2022
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
05 08 developing compassionate thinking 2593344 completed
Developing Compassionate Thinking Towards Self and Others
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
When people speak of compassion, they mostly are referring to having compassion for others... for…
a man writing a letter
Writing the Truth and Allowing the Emotions to Flow
by Barbara Berger
Writing things down is a good way to practice truth telling.
a young couple, wearing protective masks, standing on a bridge
A Bridge for Healing: Dear Corona Virus...
by Laura Aversano
The Coronavirus pandemic represented a current in our psychic and physical spheres of reality that…
A+ or B-? What’s Your Secret Rating of Your Life?
A+ or B-? What’s Your Secret Rating of Your Life?
by Noelle Sterne, Ph.D.
If we don’t like where we are, does that mean we’re condemned to stay there? Absolutely not.…
Understanding Your Relationship to Your Past to Better Shape your Future
Understanding Your Relationship to Your Past to Better Shape your Future
by Dena Merriam
Each of us passes through an array of experiences that creates a beautiful but complex weaving of…
Blessings of Love for Mother Earth
Blessings of Love for Mother Earth
by Pierre Pradervand
Finally, humanity is just beginning to perceive that our planet is a living being which has been…

MOST READ

05 08 developing compassionate thinking 2593344 completed
Developing Compassionate Thinking Towards Self and Others (Video)
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
When people speak of compassion, they mostly are referring to having compassion for others... for…
shopping when god loves you 4 8
How Feeling Loved by God Cuts Self-improvement Spending
by Duke University
Christians who are spiritual or religious are less likely to purchase self-improvement products…
eyes predict health 4 9
What Your Eyes Reveal About Your Health
by Barbara Pierscionek, Anglia Ruskin University
Scientists at the University of California, San Diego, have developed a smartphone app that can…
05 08 developing compassionate thinking 2593344 completed
Developing Compassionate Thinking Towards Self and Others
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
When people speak of compassion, they mostly are referring to having compassion for others... for…
rebuilding environment 4 14
How Native Birds Are Returning To New Zealand’s Restored Urban Forests
by Elizabeth Elliot Noe, Lincoln University et al
Urbanisation, and the destruction of habitat it entails, is a major threat to native bird…
The Story Of Suffering And Death Behind Ireland’s Abortion Ban And Subsequent Legalization
The Story Of Suffering And Death Behind Ireland’s Abortion Ban And Subsequent Legalization
by Gretchen E. Ely, University of Tennessee
If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the…
photo of Leo Buscaglia from cover of his book: Living, Loving and Learning
How to Change Someone's Life in a Few Seconds
by Joyce Vissell
My life was changed dramatically when someone took that second to point out my beauty.
how much sleep you need 4 7
How Much Sleep You Really Need
by Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian, University of Cambridge, et al
Most of us struggle to think well after a poor night’s sleep – feeling foggy and failing to perform…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.