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Universal Music

February 9, 2018

Some basic features of songs may be nearly universal.



Music that crosses cultures. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(Ainu lullaby)

Many songs, like this lullaby from the Ainu culture of Japan, serve a function, like putting a baby to sleep or healing the sick. In the journal Current Biology, Harvard researcher Samuel Mehr and his colleagues report that people the world over can recognize these functions — even after hearing just 14 seconds of a song.

SAMUEL MEHR (Harvard University):

It doesn’t seem to matter in our study whether the listeners on the Internet were coming from the US or India or any of 58 other countries around the world.  Regardless of who’s doing the listening, they tend to make these ratings quite consistently with one another.


The researchers are now trying the study with isolated populations of people who have never heard music other than their own. Mehr says the work reveals how much music reflects the basic psychology of humans, rather than their particular culture. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon