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Many might wonder why they end up liking a song that they had initially disliked. Researchers in two distinct studies found that music’s level of familiarity has profound effects on how liked it is by a person, and how much the reward and pleasure centers in their brains are activated by songs that are familiar and liked by them. In one thoroughly completed experiment, the researchers determined the influences of music familiarity by providing an initial listening test to the available number of volunteers which allowed them to narrow down to the subjects they were looking for to begin with, and then, they completed a fMRI imaging experiment where activity levels in reward centers of the brain were measured and noted (Pereira, et al.
, 2011). This study successfully showed a correlation between music familiarity and music enjoyment which was evidenced through high activity in pleasure centers of the brain, namely the amygdala and thalamus.
Yet another study utilized fMRI imaging in regard to popular dance music, which allowed them to establish a correlation between music familiarity and activity in pleasurable brain regions (Rusner, Todt, Knorgen, Spielmann, & Auhagen, 2015).
Particularly, these researchers were able to pinpoint that listening to a song repeated times could increase one’s chance of liking the song better, because a high degree of familiarity showed a high degree of likeability. Thus, one who was not fond of a certain song in the beginning could easily grow to love the song, and become more in touch with the feelings derived from the song.
Despite finding a correlation between music enjoyment and music familiarity, both studies have errors that can’t be overlooked. For instance, in the first study, although the researchers are trying to narrow down their volunteers with their listening test based on the grounds of familiarity, the song choices they make their volunteers listen to are songs that are lacking any popularity. The researchers based their entire experiment on the claim that they’ll be using a selection of rock/pop songs that are widely liked by the public, but rather, provide a selection of music that are barely popular at all, with repeated selections from artists like Jeremy Warmsley and Bonnie Prince Billy. Moreover, the listening test and the fMRI imaging study only provided 5 second excerpts of the song, and although the researchers claim that this is a enough time for emotions to be evoked, it’s ambiguous if one can truly pinpoint their level of familiarity with a song within only 5 seconds. Last, but not least, both studies labeled their experiments as being in naturalistic settings, but when one actually delves into the details of the study, one discovers that the researchers only attempted to mimic a natural setting, which is nowhere near the reality of an actual natural setting. Volunteers who are aware of being studies by researchers might inevitably act differently than they do in natural settings, and not provide their true reactions to a particular song.
By not knowing how the researchers recruited these volunteers, the reader is left with a curiosity as to the degree of bias within these studies. As can be seen, although these two studies provide insight as well as a lead in the right direction in understanding music familiarity’s effects on the brain, they are lacking clarification in certain aspects. By providing clarity in how the researchers recruited their volunteers, by explaining how their data comes into play rather than just giving the data, and by attaining a true natural setting, researchers should be able to come up with more accurate and precise results.
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