Is our music taste a product of our upbringing? It seems so.
New research carried out by Josh McDermott, a Cognitive neuroscientists at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), suggests our music taste is informed by our immediate culture.
In order to test this hypothesis he visited the indigenous tribe of the Tsimane people in Bolivia’s Amazon in 2011 and 2015. He found that whilst they had almost no contact with Western music, they expressed no dissatisfaction for dissonant chords nor consonant chords. Westerners on the other hand almost all prefer consonant chords, signalling that nurture wins out over nature.
Consonant chords are those that don’t sound damn weird and out of key, dissonance sounds something like this:
The study alludes to the fact that our culture, childhood, and what our friends are into shape what we like and listen to. As the authors state, “Ethnomusicologists and composers, have argued that consonance is a creation of Western musical culture.” This Suggests that if we grew up listening to dissonant chords as much as consonant chords, we would probably end up having the same auditory preferences as the Tsimane people.
Of the study McDermott said, “Most people hear a lot of Western music, and Western music has a lot of consonant chords in it. It’s thus been hard to rule out the possibility that we like consonance because that’s what we’re used to, but also hard to provide a definitive test.”
This debate about how our culture informs our likes and dislikes has been raging for hundreds of years, going back to philosophers like Rene Descartes. As the study’s founders stated, “Music is present in every culture, but the degree to which it is shaped by biology remains debated.”
For more on the findings, head here: Nature journal.