Low end theory: scientists confirm that bass gets us dancing

dancing in club
(Image credit: Getty)

It might seem like common sense that it's the bass in music that gets us dancing, but what you might not have guessed is that even inaudible, very low frequency bass can compel us to get moving. 

This is what's being claimed by scientists from Canada's McMaster University, following a new study that explores the effects of bass frequencies on dancers in a real-world club context. In the study, researchers set up an EDM concert, inviting Canadian duo Orphx to perform, and asked attendees to don motion-capture headbands in order to track their dancing. 

During the performance, the scientists periodically turned custom-built VLF (very low frequency) speakers on and off every 2 and a half minutes. These speakers emit sound waves that are lower than the range of human hearing, and cannot be perceived as sound. 

The scientists found that subjects moved an average of 11.8% more while the speakers were on, suggesting that the non-audible low-frequency stimulation compelled the dancers to dance more enthusiastically, in what researchers describe as "an unconscious effect on behaviour, possibly via vestibular and/or tactile processing."

So how can bass that's too low to hear make us dance more? The scientists behind the study propose that though we don't consciously register the VLF sound waves, they influence us via "vibrotactile and vestibular systems", meaning that they're perceived as physical sensations and through the apparatus that our inner ear uses to keep us balanced.

"Vibrotactile and vestibular systems process low frequency sound, have close links to the motor system, and can affect groove ratings, spontaneous movement, and rhythm perception," the researchers claim. 

"One theory suggests the vestibular system in particular has a fundamental role in human perception of low frequencies, musical rhythm, and the urge to move to music, in part due to vestibular-autonomic effects. Our study is consistent with that theory, although it was not a direct test of it."

When it comes to dancing, it appears Meghan Trainor was right: it really is all about that bass.


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