By John Salak –
Little wonder the world is in such disastrous shape. Sure, many forms of culture cut across borders and boundaries to bind people together, but one theme or element that doesn’t seem to travel well is love songs.
Okay, Beyonce, Britney and Taylor may be able to peddle their vocal wares worldwide, but researchers at Yale University claim that love songs are a notable cultural theme that just isn’t universally accepted. The Yalies, however, were quick to note that singing, in general, translates well, it is just that love songs don’t.
“All around the world, people sing in similar ways,” reported senior author Samuel Mehr, who splits his time between Yale and the University of Auckland. “Music is deeply rooted in human social interaction.”
The roadblock for love songs apparently comes because of the inability of people to recognize these tunes if they aren’t from their own cultures. Yale researchers discovered this block after playing 14-second snippets of vocals from a bank of songs that originated from a host of cultures to more than 5,000 people from 49 countries. The subjects came from both the industrialized world and three small, relatively isolated groups of people.
The process asked the listeners to rank the likelihood of each sample as being one of four music types: dance, lullabies, “healing” music or love music. Unlike most psychology experiments, which are conducted in one language, this experiment was performed in 31 languages. Yet regardless of the language used, people from all cultures could easily identify dance music, lullabies, and, to a lesser extent, even music created to heal. Recognition of love songs, however, lagged these other categories.
The failure to connect to love songs is pretty astounding considering that love is the central theme for about 67 percent of all songs, according to the University of Illinois. It is further estimated that more than 400 million love songs have been produced worldwide since the 12th Century.
“One reason for this could be that love songs may be a particularly fuzzy category that includes songs that express happiness and attraction, but also sadness and jealousy,” lead author Lidya Yurdum added. “Listeners who heard love songs from neighboring countries and in languages related to their own actually did a little better, likely because of the familiar linguistic and cultural clues.”
But other than love songs, the authors discovered, the listeners’ ratings were largely accurate, consistent with one another, and not explained by their linguistic or geographical proximity to the singer. This shows that musical diversity is underlain by universal psychological phenomena.
“Our minds have evolved to listen to music. It is not a recent invention,” Yurdum said. “But if we only study songs from the Western world and listeners from the Western world, we can only draw conclusions about the Western world — not humans in general.”
Ultimately, it seems people just need to listen to even more silly, little love songs.