Drop that bass (below the level of human hearing) to get bodies on the dance floor moving

People dance nearly 12% more when music includes very low frequency bass but researchers have found that it may be the sounds we don’t hear that gets our toes tapping.

This is interesting news for those who’ve had an experience at a party, celebration or club when the music’s groove just isn’t making your body move and who might be tempted to reach for the nearest beverage to lubricate our joints. But maybe there’s a solution which is more subtle – and less liable to cause headaches the next day…

It seems, as Meghan Trainor correctly observed in 2014, that it really is “All About That Bass.”

Now, it is no revelation that bass-driven music is good for a boogie. Trainor certainly wasn’t the first to discover this critical component of the rhythm section.

Researchers from Canada and Germany turned a live electronic music concert into a lab study, to find out how different qualities of music influence the body. Their results are published in Current Biology.

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The researchers introduced over speakers levels of bass below human hearing levels. This super low pitch infrasound is made up of wavelengths of sound too long for our ears to pick up. Infrasound is common in whale song and other parts of the animal and natural world.

Monitoring the crowd’s movements, the scientists found that people danced 11.8% more when the very low frequency bass was present.

“I’m trained as a drummer, and most of my research career has been focused on the rhythmic aspects of music and how they make us move,” says first author Daniel Cameron, a neuroscientist from Canada’s McMaster University. “Music is a biological curiosity – it doesn’t reproduce us, it doesn’t feed us, and it doesn’t shelter us, so why do humans like it and why do they like to move to it?”

Cameron and colleagues treated participants in the study to a 45-minute live set by electronic musical duo Orphx at LIVELab, a research theatre at the University.

Donning motion-sensing headbands, the concert-goers’ dance moves were monitored. They were also asked to fill out survey forms before and after to ensure they didn’t detect the infrasound, to measure their enjoyment, and examine how the music felt physically.

Turning the ultra-low bass playing speakers on and off every two minutes, the researchers found movement increased by 12% when the speakers were on.

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Vibrations experienced through touch and interactions between the inner ear and brain are closely linked to the motor system.

The researchers theorise that there is a neurological link between these physiological processes and music. They believe that our anatomy can pick up on low frequencies, affecting our perception of “groove”, spontaneous movement and rhythm.

Cameron suggests that the super-low frequencies may influence the vestibular system which controls body position and movement through the inner ear.

“Very low frequencies may also affect vestibular sensitivity, adding to people’s experience of movement. Nailing down the brain mechanisms involved will require looking the effects of low frequencies on the vestibular, tactile, and auditory pathways,” says Cameron.

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