I’m hardly the first person to ask this question, but it has been something I’ve been considering lately.
I started thinking about this when my son told me about some studies that had been conducted regarding music’s effects on living things. I also did some research of my own on the general topic of modern popular music.
There have been a number of experiments where music was played to plants. Perhaps bigger than the question of how plants respond to music is the question, “Who came up with that idea?!” At any rate, it turns out that plants exposed to classical music tend to thrive. On the other end of the spectrum, plants exposed to rock music did poorly. Apparently, jazz causes plants to grow faster and taller, but with weaker roots. There’s a joke in there somewhere.
Then there’s the study where researchers had mice negotiate a maze to find food. There was a control group with no music, a group exposed to classical music, and one exposed to heavy metal. The group of mice that had Mozart piped in completed the maze significantly faster than the control group. The third group listened to the metal band Anthrax. Not only was this group far slower in finding their way through the maze, several of the “headbanger mice” never even finished it!
Researchers concluded that loud, repetitive rhythms tended to decrease cognitive ability in the mice. Granted, that’s rodents, but scientists test all kinds of other things we consume on mice as well, so why would music be any different?
There are a couple more studies where scientists analyzed modern popular music itself. Some findings: the timbre of music (variety of sounds and textures) has greatly decreased since the 1960s; the overall volume has increased, and lyrics are far simpler than in decades past. That’s scary when you consider old lyrics such as “Yummy, yummy, I’ve got love in my tummy” or “Land of 1,000 Dances" (“Na, na, na, na, na,” ad infintium.)
Okay, but is music actually making us more stupid?
Consider this: Pretty much every public space (in America, at least) has background music, and it’s usually not Mozart. I really noticed this last spring when my family and I went on a Caribbean cruise. Everywhere on the ship there was music playing. Classic rock in the hallways, country on the stern, pop on the lido deck (that’s the main gathering area with pools and restaurants). It was impossible to get a snack on the lido deck without being subjected to “THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.” Seriously, the only beat I heard in that area was quarter notes. No syncopation, no actual melody. Just loud, constant quarter notes.
Oh wait--they did play soft jazz in the formal dining room, though they only had a few songs on rotation. It became a joke every meal: “Hey guys, it’s ‘So What?’ by Miles Davis!” But that was still way better than the “pop” area.
People listen to music in their cars, at work, at school, in every store and restaurant. It’s a common sight to see teenagers with ear buds in (or better yet, huge headphones) everywhere they go. Do they take them off when they sleep?!
And what kind of music is heard in all these places? At best, a repetitive rock or country beat; at worst, “THUMP, THUMP, THUMP!!!” That’s right, the very loud repetitive rhythms that have been proven to make mice dumb.
And what about classical music? 7-11s in California actually play it to drive away homeless people! You can’t make this stuff up.
You’ve no doubt seen “man on the street” interviews where they talk to people who think Lincoln was the first president, or that Ireland is in Africa. If you wonder “How did people get so stupid?”, well, now maybe you know…
I've included some old blogs along with the new. Should you ever find yourself suffering from insomnia, this is the place for you! That's as poetic as I get...