How our Culture Impacts our Music Taste


What determines our taste in music?  Is it something predetermined, born within us?  Or does it have more to do with how we are raised?  This discussion of nature vs. nurture is not new among scientists, and past studies have found evidence suggesting that nature has some role to play.

However, a new study published by the Nature Journal of Science suggests that the music we are exposed to in our culture while we are growing up has a lot to do with it.

Photo: Alan Schultz via MIT

“A team of researchers from multiple universities, including MIT and Brandeis University, conducted two studies in 2011 and 2015. They asked study participants to rate the pleasantness of both consonant and dissonant chords. Some of those surveyed were from the United States, but most were from the Tsimane, an Amazonian tribe with limited exposure to Western culture. Also included was a group of Spanish-speaking Bolivians who live in a small town near the Tsimane, and residents of the Bolivian capital, La Paz.”

For those unfamiliar, the differences between consonant and dissonant chords and be heard here:

“In Western culture, consonant sounds are typically described as pleasant, while dissonant ones are tense and a little grating.”

The study discovered that while western participants found the dissonant chords to be unpleasant, or were repelled by them, “the researchers found that the Tsimane rated consonant and dissonant tones equally in terms of pleasantness.”

Researchers theorized that this may be because, “Tsimane music doesn’t make use of harmony, unlike the music of Western cultures. Instead of using chords, they are more accustomed to one note being played at a time.”

You can read more about the study in the full article over at