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Brain waves of concertgoers sync up at shows

Music mind meld really happens

1:30pm, March 28, 2018
music concert

THEY GOT THE BEAT  People’s brain waves sync up when watching live music, and the coordinated activity is tied to having more fun.

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BOSTON — Getting your groove on solo with headphones on might be your jam, but it can’t compare with a live concert. Just ask your brain. When people watch live music together, their brains waves synchronize, and this brain bonding is linked with having a better time.

The new findings, reported March 27 at a Cognitive Neuroscience Society meeting, are a reminder that humans are social creatures. In western cultures, performing music is generally reserved for the tunefully talented, but this hasn’t been true through much of human history. “Music is typically linked with ritual and in most cultures is associated with dance,” said neuroscientist Jessica Grahn of Western University in London, Canada. “It’s a way to have social participation.”

Study participants were split into groups of 20 and experienced music in one of three ways. Some watched a live concert with a large audience, some watched a recording of the concert with a large audience, and some watched the recording with only a few other people. Each person wore EEG caps, headwear covered with electrodes that measure the collective behavior of the brain’s nerve cells. The musicians played an original song they wrote for the study.

The delta brain waves of audience members who watched the music live were more synchronized than those of people in the other two groups. Delta brain waves fall in a frequency range that roughly corresponds to the beat of the music, suggesting that beat drives the synchronicity, neuroscientist Molly Henry, a member of Grahn’s lab, reported. The more synchronized a particular audience member was with others, the more he or she reported feeling connected to the performers and enjoying the show.


M.J. Henry et al. Live music increases intersubject synchronization of audience members’ brain rhythms. Cognitive Neuroscience Society meeting, Boston, March 27, 2018.

Further Reading

L. Sanders. Brain waves may focus attention and keep information flowing. Science News. Vol. 193, March 31, 2018, p. 16.

D. Garisto. To hear the beat, your brain may think about moving to it. Science News Online, February 16, 2018.

B. Bower. A man lost in musical time. Science News. Vol. 179, March 26, 2011, p. 9.

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