Unexpected music resonates deep within our hearts, while predictable melodies often bring a sense of tranquility. These insights stem from a recent study published in “iScience” by a team of researchers led by the University of Tokyo and Hiroshima University. The researchers exposed over 500 participants to eight brief compositions, each comprising only four chords.

These melodies featured a blend of both surprising and expected chord progressions, offering varying degrees of certainty. When asked to describe their emotional and physical responses to the music, participants revealed that fluctuations in chord patterns were distinctly felt in specific regions of their bodies, particularly in the heart and abdomen. Notably, sensations in the heart strongly correlated with aesthetic appreciation and feelings of pleasure, suggesting a profound connection between internal bodily sensations and musical experiences.

Drawing from a pool of 890 songs from the Billboard charts in the United States, the researchers crafted eight distinct chord sequences to present to the participants. Each sequence was carefully designed to evoke different emotional responses. Through participant feedback, researchers were able to map out the bodily regions where the music was felt most intensely, creating a nuanced understanding of the physiological effects of chord progressions.

Among these sequences, one elicited particularly strong sensations in the abdomen when characterized by low surprise and uncertainty, termed the sLuL-sLuL sequence. This predictable arrangement induced feelings of calmness, relief, satisfaction, nostalgia, and empathy. Conversely, another sequence, dubbed sLuL-sHuL, triggered heightened sensations in the heart, especially when the final chord introduced a twist of high surprise amidst low uncertainty. These findings highlight the intricate interplay between musical structure, bodily sensations, and emotional experiences, offering valuable insights into the potential therapeutic applications of music for enhancing overall well-being.

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