The Science of the Auditory Response
The recent announcement of bi-directional headphones by Bell Labs will soon allow music consumers who purchase the long rumored iProbe (due in late 2012) to reproduce in their own homes, with their own music library, what previously only neuroeconomists have been able to do using prohibitively expensive state of the art equipment in University research laboratories.
The bi-directional headphones not only allow the user to listen to music but the nano-optical fiber probes will measure the real time brain activity in the nucleus accumbens. The activity of the accumbens correlates with the pure pleasure response and effectively tells the listener if they truly enjoy the music or if the have been unduly influenced by social or other considerations. An unpublished manuscript currently under review at the Journal of Economic Cognitive Processes is reportedly being held at Apple’s request in an attempt to coordinate publication with the scheduled Black Friday release of the iProbe. A second manuscript published in Nature Methods (summarized here) attempts to map homology between monkey and human brains. Visual stimulation (30 minutes of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) was provided to monkeys and humans and their brain activity was monitored and compared using interspecies activity correlation (ISAC) which uses functional resonance imaging (FMRI) to identify responsive regions of the brain. An obvious extension of this work, and the most exciting to musicologists, would be to provide audio stimulation to a range of species and using reverse genetics and ISAC construct an evolutionary auditory response tree (EART). Combining the two revolutionary techniques Scientists as well as casual music fans will soon be able to dissect and quantify the listener’s response and not only ask but answer long debated questions about the intersection of science and the appreciation of music.
Does the Bo Diddley beat cross the species music appreciation brain barrier? Prediction: Yes.
Do you really like Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend? Prediction: No.
Do you really hate Taylor Swift’s music? Prediction: Not as much as you think.
Is Justin Beiber’s music truly annoying? Prediction: Yes.