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Raucous Music May Tap Into Your Inner Animal
Date:6/13/2012

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, June 13 (HealthDay News) -- Harsh, jarring music -- a mainstay of rock-and-roll, movie soundtracks and many garage bands -- appears to stimulate your mind by simulating the sounds of animals in distress, a new study claims.

The research doesn't directly prove that the distortion in a song such as Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" makes you subconsciously think about the screams of other mammals. However, study author Daniel Blumstein said "it gives us the biological basis behind why certain forms of music create emotions. What's so nice about this is that they're inspired by biological forces, by 3.5 billion years of life."

Blumstein, chair of the ecology and evolutionary biology department at the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues are studying how the distress sounds of mammals and birds command attention. It appears that they "overblow" their vocal systems, Blumstein said, creating distortion similar to what you hear if you turn your stereo volume up too high.

The researchers sought to better understand how people react to distortions in music. With the help of Greg Bryant, an assistant professor of communication studies at UCLA, musician and recording engineer, they created 10-second snippets of music. Some were bland -- "Muzak-y," Blumstein said -- and others transformed after five seconds into harsh, rough music.

The idea was to create discordant sounds evocative of those made by animals in distress. "We're not increasing the tempo, we're not increasing the amplitude, we're not changing keys," Blumstein said. "We're adding noise, something that would be naturally produced. We're creating biologically inspired music."

Forty-two UCLA undergrads who heard the snippets that included the rougher music found them more stimulating than the other music.

However, a second group of students was less aroused if they watched innocuo
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