Distorted guitar, jarring chords and screeching solos get a lot of us pumped up. New research reveals that it’s not something we’ve learnt to love — in fact, the distinctive sounds of rock music echo the raw, visceral warning sounds of humans and animals from prehistoric times.
The study, published in Biology Letters, investigates the effects of dissonant music on our mood and emotions. The researchers found that sudden, jarring changes in pitch affect humans in the exact same way animals use their calls to alert one another to danger.
When animals cry out in distress, they expel larger-than-usual quantities of air. The result is a discordant sound, not dissimilar to some of the effects heard in rock music and on soundtracks to dramatic films. When participants are played rock music, their reactions are the same as when hearing animals crying out in distress — they feel excited, but charged with negative emotion. Greg Bryant, one of the researchers explained to the Telegraph:
“Composers have intuitive knowledge of what sounds scary without knowing why. What they usually don’t realise is that they’re exploiting our evolved predispositions to get excited and have negative emotions when hearing certain sounds.”