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Want to Get People Dancing? Science Says Turn Up the Bass

The math is simple. More low frequencies mean more movement, a study says, giving extra meaning to "get low" in the club.

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Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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Eric Mack
2 min read
livelab

On stage at LiveLab.

LiveLab

A key moment in any night out at the club -- or any concert helmed by a DJ spinning house, trap or any other electronic subgenre -- is when the beat drops. The deeper and dirtier the bass, the better. You've probably seen crowds surge onto the dance floor when the beat hits and thin out when it pulls back.

It turns out that more bass in music, even when the frequency is too low to be heard, drives us to dance more. 

In a new study conducted during an actual concert for electronic musical duo Orphx, researchers found people danced almost 12% more when very low-frequency bass was present. 

Study participants were invited to a concert at the McMaster University LiveLab in Hamilton, Ontario, where lead author Daniel Cameron is a neuroscientist. The results of the experiment were published Monday in the journal Current Biology. 

"I'm trained as a drummer, and most of my research career has been focused on the rhythmic aspects of music and how they make us move," Cameron said in a statement. "Music is a biological curiosity. It doesn't reproduce us, it doesn't feed us, and it doesn't shelter us, so why do humans like it and why do they like to move to it?"

The LiveLab venue is a "research theater" equipped with 3D motion capture equipment and a customized sound system to reproduce various environments and play extremely low frequencies that can't be detected by the human ear. For the experiment, concertgoers also wore motion-sensing headbands to track their movements on the dance floor. 

During the 45-minute show, the undetectable bass was turned up every few minutes, and dancing increased. 

"The musicians were enthusiastic to participate because of their interest in this idea that bass can change how the music is experienced in a way that impacts movement," Cameron said. 

The researchers suspect we may be able to pick up very low bass through vibrations in the inner ear or elsewhere in our anatomy, even when can't hear it. 

"Very low frequencies may also affect vestibular sensitivity, adding to people's experience of movement," Cameron said. "Nailing down the brain mechanisms involved will require looking at the effects of low frequencies on the vestibular, tactile, and auditory pathways." 

So DJs be advised. It's even more important to drop the bass than previously thought, more important even than being able to hear it.