What is the relationship between rhythm and fitness? Researchers explore the positive effects of rhythmic stimulation of the brain, which will hopefully shed light on the reasons why rhythm is such an important biological factor across species.
In a 2016 study in Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, research shows how rhythm and synchronization are evolutionarily beneficial in areas of mental, physical, and sexual fitness.
On a basic level, this is something that we already know and perceive in the world every day. From the sounds of crickets signaling in the evenings to the complex and culturally varied history of courtship dances in humans, the biological importance of rhythm is a force that links various species throughout evolutionary time.
Beyond pleasure, the neurological effects of rhythm have a direct link to our evolutionary fitness, thus providing us with an ability to succeed mentally, physically, and biologically.
The Science of the Orgasm
In a study examining the science behind human orgasms, Adam Saffron, Ph.D, and his team of neuroscience researchers discovered that the main trigger for the experience is a certain intensity of rhythmic stimulation that contributes to sort of “sensory overload” in the brain. When the brain’s neurons are exposed to a specific rhythm at a high frequency, orgasm is reached.
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This study reveals that yes, rhythmic entrainment is essential to achieving orgasms, but it also gives us a window into how this same source of rhythmic stimulation has evolutionary benefits.
“Because the production of rhythmic stimulation combines honest indicators of fitness with cues relating to potential for investment, differential orgasmic response may serve to influence the probability of continued sexual encounters with specific mates,” states Saffron.
Pump up the Jam!
Beyond sex, the rhythmic entrainment of neurotransmitters in the brain that leads to orgasms is a similar kind of stimulation that beats and music have on the brain’s ability to concentrate.
Kevin Purdy from Lifehacker explains how “in one study, University of Illinois researchers found that listening to music in ‘all types of work’ increased work output 6.3% over a control group. Purdy continues that in another study (dissected at MetaFilter), 56 employees working on basic computer tasks were found to be more productive when there was no music playing over the same period tested with music.”
So, it would seem that listening to rhythmic music while focusing on some mental tasks does increase speed, productivity, and overall performance.
In another study on the effects of music on the brain, this time during physical activity, scientists from Brunel University in London make similar claims, noting that the repetition of sounds has a positive effect on endurance and helps athletes keep pace through synchronization with the music.
In a 2012 review of the research, Costas Karageorghis (one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of exercise music) wrote that one could think of music as ‘a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.’ There is, however, a threshold that rhythmic patterns reach before they become ineffective at producing positive results in the study.
In his article about the relationship between music and physical accuracy in exercise, Ferris Jabr explains how, “When asked to tap their fingers or walk, many people unconsciously settle into a rhythm of 120 bpm.” Again, we come back to the idea of ‘sensory overload’ and the implications that rhythmic patterns have on the brain.
Walk Like an Egyptian
The specificity of unique patterns and rhythms that produce neurological benefits, from orgasms to basic biological functions is still a topic that deserves much more research.
From the aforementioned studies, we can see that rhythmic entrainment of neurotransmitters has effects, and we can even see to what extent the effects are positive or negative. Ultimately, rhythm and synchronization are the keys to human life. As Jabr points out, we synchronize subconsciously, producing rhythms for tasks that we often take for granted, like walking, or even the seemingly non-systematic act of reaching for something.
Information and research about rhythmic stimulation and the degree to which it is applied can teach us more about how the human brain has evolved, and might provide evidence to research regarding neurological disorders in which rhythms are disrupted, like using music therapy to treat Parkinson’s disease.
Figuring out how to exploit our basic needs for rhythm, in both a biological and physical and mental sense, sets up scientists with more questions about how to use these known facts to learn more about the evolution of the human brain.
It’s Valentine’s Day. Now Get out There and cut Some rug!
We’ve shown you that getting into musical rhythm can increase biological and neurological efficiency. Since it is Valentine’s day, make sure you take your sweetheart out and dance until you feel yourselves in complete synchronicity.
What you do after that is up to you!