Rock out with your cochlea out

Over the years I have tried to explain my seemingly inexplicable musical tastes in terms of everything from childhood exposure to polymorphous perversity. But it never occurred to this all-American bullet-headed non-Saxon mother’s son to blame the shape of his skull:

In addition to the obvious social and cultural influences on musical preference, there are also a myriad of little physical quirks of the body that affect the way we hear and process sound, particularly music.

A new study presented at the 165th Acoustical Society of America Meeting in Montreal last week added another quirk to the list: skull resonance. It turns out that the unique shape and resonance of a person’s skull could have a subtle impact on the way that she hears different keys of music, and how much she likes it.

Okay, I’m with you so far.

The cochlea itself is embedded deep within the temporal bone of the skull. This extremely dense bone sets the tone for the way the skull resonates sound and influences how sounds are amplified, diminished and ultimately heard.

Since no two skulls are exactly alike, no two temporal bones or the resonating structures they create are identical, or will resonate the same way. So, researchers at William Paterson University wanted to see exactly how much skull shape and resonance affects what kind of music a person prefers.

Or, as it happens, doesn’t prefer:

Across the panel of participants, skull frequency varied between 35 and 65 hertz. Incidentally, the female participants had slightly smaller skulls and a higher fundamental skull frequency than the male participants.

The researchers found that the resonance of the skull did not seem to have a strong influence on the keys of music the participants preferred, but it did moderately predict the kind of music that the participants disliked.

Which seems more logical than my previous hypothesis, to the effect that there is a distinct anti-Nickelback gene.

(Via this Jennifer Ouellette tweet.)



  1. Tatyana »

    22 June 2013 · 5:06 pm

    So what does that translates to? I need examples. The article stopped at the most interesting part.

  2. CGHill »

    22 June 2013 · 8:50 pm

    There exists a PDF of the five-page paper. I’ve seen nothing beyond that.

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