Does Very Low Frequency Sound Make People Dance More? Science Says Yes

Does very low frequency sound make people want to dance more?

A new study says ‘yes’. The title of the study, Undetectable very-low frequency sound increases dancing at a live concert, highlights that the authors found that bass so low you many not even consciously hear it can subliminally influence your behavior.

In other words – when the sub-bass kicks in, people want to dance more.

Here’s how the authors summarize their study:

“We tested whether non-auditory low-frequency stimulation would increase audience dancing by turning very-low frequency (VLF) speakers on and off during a live electronic music concert and measuring audience members’ movements using motion-capture. Movement increased when VLFs were present, and because the VLFs were below or near auditory thresholds (and a subsequent experiment suggested they were undetectable), we believe this represents an unconscious effect on behaviour, possibly via vestibular and/or tactile processing.”

Why does bass you can’t even hear make you want to dance?

The authors say that low frequency sound is processed via vibrotactile and vestibular pathways, in addition to auditory pathways. Stimulation of these non-auditory modalities in the context of music can increase ratings of groove, and modulate musical rhythm perception. They go on to add that “Anecdotal accounts describe intense physical and psychological effects of low frequencies, especially in electronic dance music, possibly reflecting effects on physiological arousal.”

Via Dean Whitbread

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43 thoughts on “Does Very Low Frequency Sound Make People Dance More? Science Says Yes

  1. Although I’m not too sure how, exactly, to interpret the data myself (i.e., what might be the neural mechanism that underlies the effect), the authors do offer a compelling case for a causal factor for non-auditory low frequency stimulation for increasing the frequency of dancing. The experiment was well controlled, and the fact that it is published in a biological sciences journal that has a very high Impact Factor, testifies to its scientific merit.

    [For those who don’t work in a science or engineering discipline, the Impact Factor of a journal can be roughly described as the “weighted scientific quality” of the journal. The reviewers of journals with higher impact factors are more critical of things that include overall experimental design, especially experimental control, and higher Impact Factor score journals have higher rejection rates for articles submitted to them. Journals that have an Impact Factor between 0.00 and 1.00 are considered “trash” journals that will publish just about anything (so articles published in them are less likely to be cited in other research papers). Journals with impact factors over 3.0 are considered to be good journals, and over 10.0 excellent. “Current Biology”, where this study was published, has an Impact Factor of 10.83, which is quite high for a “biology” journal. The numeric weighting of the Impact Factor is largely determined by the average number of citations of the combined collection of papers published in the journal. So, for journals with impact factors over 10.0, the numeric magnitude of the Impact Factor is primarily a function of the size of its user base (i.e., if more people read a paper they are more likely to cite it). So, without additional information (other than the Impact Factor), it is impossible to distinguish the “scientific quality” of a journal with an Impact Factor of 10.83 (e.g., “Current Biology”, that has a relatively lower user base) from one with an Impact Factor of 42.2 (e.g., “Nature”, that has a user base that is much larger). Many primarily research universities use a weighting system that includes ‘average impact factors of publications’ along with ‘publication number’ to determine faculty advancement and tenure.].

    Sorry for this verbose post. I have included the Impact Factor information in order to emphasize the quality of this particular paper. Normally, when I see articles like this one in a music venue, I am generally suspicious. I was particularly impressed by this paper. If nothing the paper being discussed demonstrates that it is possible, still, to ask and answer interesting questions using “good science”.

    1. thank you for that John. did not know that!

      although, in my book “undetectable” means what is says. sloppy wording someone…

  2. Did they check whether it’s the beat or the frequency in the VLF that triggered the people. I guess the former, not the latter. Boom, boom, boom…

    1. If you click on the bolded text in the second paragraph of this article, it will bring you to the actual paper. In brief, the researchers had an amplification and speaker system whereby they combined the VLF signal with the house mix. The VLF was not detectable (demonstrated, specifically, in a control experiment). People danced “more” when the VLF was included in the house mix. Given that there was less than 1/1000 chance of them finding these results if the data were random, the effect was highly reliable and would be considered real by a great majority of experimental psychologists and neuroscientists. The effect had nothing to do with “beat”, and there was no “beat” in the VLF signal..

    2. There’s a quote above that addresses this very question. It’s only a single paragraph, so the rest of us will wait while you go and read it. TLDR; The researchers considered and addressed your Very Obvious Question.

      1. Although it is indeed a valid question to ask. Would it be sufficient to play a constant VLF to increase the inclination to dance? Or does the inclination also depend on rhythmic structure of VLF (which I would assume). If yes, are there certain optima (“nudging”) at certain BPM? Does a beat of VLF interfere with audible music? Would VLF alone be enough to make people experience music (e. g. deaf people)?

        1. Yours are, indeed, good questions. As to whether or not whether the presence of a single Very Low Frequency that didn’t change (in frequency) could produce the effect wasn’t addressed, but it is a good question because the way the VLFs were obtained by

          … “The content of the VLF sound resulted from the music and sounds created by the performance musicians (Orphx), A synthesizer produced bass sounds that were shifted several octaves lower than the normal bass tracks. We did not guide or constrain what the VLFs should contribute musically.”… (page 3 , Supplemental Infromation)

          So, even though it isn’t explicitly stated, what it appears they did was to allow Orphix to create a new bass track that they later shifted lower in frequency to derive the VLF track. Given that the performers are musicians, one would have to conclude that the “new” bass track was “in tune” with the structure of the rest of the music (if it wasn’t, then you would expect some dissonance from the interaction of the harmonics with the rest of the concurrently played music, and that dissonance would probably would have been detected and would have made the VLF-On periods detctable based on dissonance, alone).

          About your beat (rhythm) question. Again, this isn’t explicitly addressed, either. But, again, since it is Orphx that is is producing the track, one would think that it would be rhythmically related to the music it was superimposed on. But, again, that isn’t stated in the VLF production method quoted above.

          Your last question (Would deaf people experience “music” from rhythmic VLF stimulation?) is most intriguing (it you aren’t a scientist, maybe you should look into it). Depending on the nature of the deafness (this can occur in many places in the chain from the vibrating bones in the middle ear, to the transduction of the fluid waves in the inner ear, to problems with the transmission path in any area along the route of the signal to the auditory cortex in the brain’s temporal lobe), maybe they would. But, since these VLF frequencies aren’t perceived (no matter how they are getting to the brain) it’s possible that a deaf person might be induced to dance by exposure to these signals, but they might not know why they are so inclined 🙂

  3. Uh!¿Duh?! uh¡ever heard of that genre they call drum&bass?!It’d(be)that(‘s)what dance music IS¿? ISN’T IT¡¿right!?kids, thanx folks.

    1. The study is about adding energy in the 8-37Hz range and measuring the total quantity of audience movement with motion tracking. It shows an increase in movement when subs are added.
      What it does not do is to propose any sort of qualification as to what dance music is or how it achieves its goal of making people want to shake their booty.

      Also, even without this study, it should be pretty obvious that humans have not waited for the invention of subwoofers to start dancing.

  4. I took the time to write an explanation of why this was a valid scientific study. It was a little verbose, but mostly in a paragraph where I describe how the validity of scientific articles is determined.. When I “sent” it, I got the usual “Waiting for moderation” disclaimer, but everything I wrote was there. As I read it over, I found a comma that needed to be added so I edited it. When I attempted to send the edited post, I got some message, something like: “this message was marked as spam, if you think this is in error, contact –somebody– “. It never explained how to contact –somebody–, and when I opened the article later, to respond as I did (above), I found that the post I sent was no longer there (even though when my posts are awaiting moderation, I always see them but they are flagged that way). So, assuming the –somebody– I was supposed to contact is reading this… that post by me was not spam, and I really don’t understand why it was marked that way.

    I thought I finally understood what the rules of posting to this blog are, but I guess I was mistaken.

  5. You can experience super low frequencies through bone conduction. Super high frequencies can be perceived through the skin, operating as an antenna. Perception is a lot more convoluted than 20-20khz.

    1. While the main experiment suggested that the VLF signals weren’t “perceived” through any sensory modality, the followup control experiment strongly supported that conclusion. That is, when you test the participants and ask the specific question “Did the music with the VLF content feel different than without it?” The answer was a resounding “No”. Neural input from the outside world to the brain requires input from some sensory “receptors”, but “sensation” (which describes the neural linkage between the sensors in the physiological periphery and the brain) is different than “perception” (the interpretation of those signals leading to conscious experience). If you can’t consciously experience something then there has been no perception of it. Technically, there is really only one “conscious” brain channel available while there are many unconscious channels. The VLF is, apparently, working through an unconscious channel which is why it can have an effect without being perceived.

      1. “Did the music with the VLF content feel different than without it?”
        The answer was a resounding “No”.

        you moved more to some titles than to others titles?
        the answer would probably be a yes here

        did you move more because people around you moved more?
        maybe, I don’t know would probably be the answer here

        what was the point again that we were trying to prove?

        1. I think you are misinterpreting what was done. The VLF was not added to the music on a “Title” basis. Before you speculate further on what was or was not done, you can read the original study report and the even more supplement for all of the details.

          Here’s another thing you probably aren’t aware of. Science (real science, I mean) doesn’t “try to prove” anything. There is no such thing as “proof” in science. Only in some disciplines of mathematics (e.g., geometry) do you “prove” anything. In science, a hypothesis is formed and it is tested. If the test fails to detect a reliable change in what is being measured (dependent variable, in this case ‘amount of dancing’) after you manipulate something you believe may have some effect on what you are measuring (independent variable, in this case sub-base frequencies that the dancers can’t hear), then you reject your hypothesis because it is, obviously, wrong. If, however (as in the case of this paper), there is a reliable effect (i.e., the change would have happened less than one out of 1000 times if there was really no effect and the data were random) you haven’t “proved” anything. The results from your experiment corroborate your hypothesis but haven’t “proved” it. Real scientific results are always expressed in terms of probabilities in relation to random (chance) data because of this. Even if you were to do the same, or similar, experiment 1000 times and found the same, or equivalent results you still haven’t “proven” anything. Such events would lend a lot of support for your hypothesis, but then the next step would be to design a new set of experiments to use the scientific method to explain it. So. the take away here is that any time you hear or read something that says an experiment “proves” something, your bullshit-o-meter should go into the red.

          1. You know how science works. 😉
            You just don’t say we proved that so and so works like this.
            You say our evidence strongly suggests … this saves your academic ass if somebody finds out things work differently than you thought they would. ^^

            1. This testifies to your lack of understanding of how “real science” works. That isn’t intended to be an insult, but a fact for far too many people, I’m afraid. There is no academic ass-saving going on in reporting the results in a way that accurately depicts them. The whole point of hypothesis testing is to corroborate a predicted outcome of a hypothesis with a probability of it being an incorrect hypothesis (i.e., the probability that it is wrong). Most importantly, while corroboration of a hypothesis is an important step in advancing understanding, science really succeeds in achieving its purpose when the hypothesis is rejected (i.e., the hypothesis is statistically proven to be incorrect). While we cannot ever state that something has been “proven” or is “the truth” when we corroborate a hypothesis, when we can statistically reject it we can say that what the hypothesis proposes IS NOT TRUE (for all practical purposes).

              Put another way, it is only by rejecting the hypothesis that we actually advance “science”. So, contrary to “academic ass-saving”, any honestly conducted research conclusion is an open invitation to be proven wrong. This is why replication is also an important step in scientific advancement. The more attempts to refute the hypothesis that are rejected, the more strongly the hypothesis becomes corroborated, and maybe someday is universally accepted as “the probable truth”. That’s what the word “law” (e.g., as in Law of Gravity) means. What may have started by Newton being hit on his head by a falling apple, causing him to formulate an invisible attraction between two masses, became the Law of Gravity. But, even though it is a universally accepted construct, that does not make a scientific law the “absolute truth”. Should someone ever drop an apple (anywhere on earth) and it suddenly rose into the air instead of falling to the ground, then the Law of Gravity would require re-evaluation. That’s how science really advances the understanding of any given phenomenon.

    2. Exactly – but it looks like they tested low frequency audio that users did not consciously perceive, which is very interesting.

  6. What makes me dance more than anything is a really good tune with a good groove to it. I’ll dance to that even if hipass-filtered at 200hz.

    1. How do you know that? Have you ever tried it? I suspect that if that high-pass filter had a steep enough slope, you might have difficulty even discerning the “groove” of the tune.

    1. It was an experiment published in a well respected scientific (biology) journal, so what kind of language would you expect the authors to use? The study is incredibly important because it demonstrates that properties of an stimulus (VLF in a music stimulus) can have an effect on behavior independently from whether or not the individual can have conscious experience of it. Technically, it ISN’T bass. Bass is an auditory property that is descriptive of a low-frequency auditory stimulus that can be perceived. Since there was no perception of the VLF in these experiments, you can’t use the term “bass” to describe it, since the conscious auditory channel is not involved and the individual has no knowledge of it even happening.

      1. “Bass is an auditory property that is descriptive of a low-frequency auditory stimulus that can be perceived.”

        Bass is a low frequent vibration in the air!
        As the study proves hearing is irrelevant here 😉

        1. they say “tactile processing”
          they don’t want to say exactly what they mean
          but they suggest some other sensory input than the ear and hearing
          from same stimulus …

          1. there is a downside to this experiment

            dancing to music with others is social interaction !
            if ppl around you dance harder you are likely to do that too …

            So there isn’t to much value in this study, me thinks.

            1. Actually, what you have done is offered an alternative hypothesis that might explain the observed effect, and it is a perfectly reasonable hypothesis for the degree of statistical significance the study achieved. But, even if you make the assumption that what was being seen was the result of a social contagion (i.e., the behavior of one member of the social species affects the behavior of others and those effect others in an exponential fashion), you still have to explain why the original member of the group danced “harder” only when the stimulus was on. However, it is an interesting consideration.

                1. Its not that I gerenally distrust the results of this study
                  but how could they forget about the social aspects of this?
                  how could they not let ppl move to the music alone in a room or something?

                  they are trying to explain this with human physiology, the hearing appartus, your brain, what have you
                  but instead of looking at single individuals and their neurons or something they look at a group of ppl and how they move together and completely ignore the social aspects of human interaction.

                  sorry, this is not good Science.

                  1. They are human? They probably weren’t psychologists or neuroscientists? There can be thousands of reasons why people don’t think 0f some things. As I stated before, the social consideration is a valid one. They did what they did. They weren’t studying why people “dance”, but whether or not an unperceived stimulus could induce them to “dance more”. That was the only question they asked and the only one they answered. I’m sure that I’m not the only person with an academic interest in this area, and I’m pretty sure that if this article gets any traction (which it probably will, given the Impact Factor of the journal) somebody WILL look into the social aspects of the effect. Put this in the context of my previous explanation of the scientific method. The type of social effects study you would suggest would come under the heading of a “replication study”. Here you would be adding another variable (social interaction) and testing whether or not the results of this current study still hold up if it is included. Again, that is how science really works.

                  2. they did this at live concerts
                    this doesn’t work at all 😉

                    we need to able to control any stimulus in a repeatable labor situation to get trustable results
                    (this includes how many ppl around you that you can see are hopping around),
                    otherwise we are just making educated guesses about what maybe is happening.

                    1.   btw. if you wonder what makes ppl dance – its loudness 😉
                      below 80 db ppl won’t dance

                      I saw a study with drunk people
                      below 80 db the music didn’t seem to create much reaction
                      hitting 80+ db
                      ppl startet to dance on the table

                    2.   the big problem here is we have only little clue about how our brain really works,
                      everything is speculative.
                      in 100 years we may know more, currently we only know that we don’t know much.

                      way more basic research is needed.

                    3. Been there and done that (drunk dancing on a table in a club). However, that was a long time ago, way before “dance music” was even considered a genre. I think the track was “Love to Love You Baby”, and I’m sure it was well above 80dB 🙂

        2. Yes, the physical events that account for the perception of “bass” involve the movement of air molecules as they collide with and repel each other. However, when we say “bass” we aren’t talking about air molecules any more than when we say “treble”. Both “bass” and “treble” have no real physical meaning. We can specify the frequency ranges of the air molecule compressions and rarefactons that we want the two terms to describe, but that is completely arbitrary. The point is, if you can’t describe the perception of something as “bass”, it isn’t bass. It’s an acoustic stimulus with a specified frequency.

          Again, the study “proves” nothing (see the explanation, above). All it demonstrates is that it is very likely that an acoustic stimulus that a person can neither hear nor feel can still affect their behavior. This is what makes it a very interesting finding for people who manipulate the molecules of sound.

      1. Frankly, I’m a little puzzled as to what the nature of the stimulus was. Somewhere in one of my comments above, I quoted the entire section from the published article’s Supplement that is devoted to describing the stimulus parameters. There is far too little there to determine what they did. Given that this is similar to a project involving effects of a light stimulus, that can’t be perceived by the visual receptors of the eye, on activity behavior (that I am working on currently), it has evoked my interest (which explains my comments, I think). Anyway, there is far too little about the acoustic stimulus parameters in the paper and I plan to call the authors to get a better idea about what they actually did. If I find out, I’ll post it here.

  7. Despite all of the lofty scientific pronouncements, no one has answered the burning question: Exactly where is “the brown note?”

  8. “Anecdotal accounts describe intense physical and psychological effects of low frequencies, especially in electronic dance music, possibly reflecting effects on physiological arousal.”

    wait, this sounds a lot like people said when the bass hits that head full XTC its really wonderful? lol

  9. I hope the engagement on this article gives synthtopia the type of ad revenue needed to allow them to post less about synthesizer companies with fascist business practices.

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