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The Dorsal View

If music be the food of love, play on…

What music do you listen to in order to enhance whatever activity you’re involved in? Eating? Working? Spending some ‘quality time’ with your significant other? Whatever music you choose, it can significantly enhance your experience.

Previous research has shown that playing a certain type of music in restaurants influences how much food is consumed, for example. Other research has proved that people prefer rich and vibrant colours when the music they are listening to is loud.

Following on from these findings, new research from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany (which changed its name from the less-benign-sounding Kaiser Wilhelm Society in 1948) has now ‘proved’ that touch is perceived differently, depending on the type of music played.

It seems that, for example, aggressive music is processed similarly in the brain as an aggressive touch, and we use similar areas of the brain to process sensual, sexy music as we do to process sensual touch.

Hence people enjoy rhythmic, upbeat music while they work out; calming, ambient music while they meditate… you get the picture.

Strangely, the researchers used a robot to prove their theory. Study volunteers stuck their forearms through a curtain and were stroked by a robot with an automatically-controlled brush, while listening to a range of music which they graded from ‘extremely sexy’ to ‘not at all sexy’. Interestingly, they all thought they were touched by a person, rather than a robot.

But even when they were told in advance that a robot would be used, this did not affect the perceived sensuality of the touch, suggesting that the effects of music on touch are rooted in very fundamental parts of our brains.

Lead author and neuroscientist Dr Tom Fritz then spoils the mood by explaining the science behind the findings in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: “We have observed that the sexier we perceive music, the sexier we also perceive touch that is administered simultaneously.

“Music seems to change our perception of touch. Certain features seem to be transferred from music to touch… These results also illustrate the evolutionary relevance of music as a social technology.”

So, dig-out your old Barry White albums for the weekend and drop me an email to let me know how you got on.

Lesser-spotted Halloween   

It’s a time of fun and mischief for children and a night of dread and trepidation for emergency services, and it’s fast approaching.

As with most manufactured ‘events’ during the year (Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc) Halloween has turned into a multi-billion euro industry. In America, at least 272 million kilos of candy are sold each Halloween, and children typically consume around 3,000 calories worth of candy during the period.

However, dispensing with the cynicism for a moment and bearing in mind the fact that it is almost upon us, here are a few lesser-spotted facts about Halloween.

Our right to complain is somewhat tempered by the fact that Ireland pretty much gave Halloween to the world. It evolved from the pagan feast of Samhain, during which the Celts believed the ghosts of the dead roamed free. Hence, people would dress in costumes and leave treats at their front doors to appease the spirits. While the holiday began here, it was commercialised and taken into the big-time by the Irish-American diaspora.

A study by the American Psychological Association found that Halloween actually makes children ‘evil’, at least to a small extent. The authors claimed unsupervised, costumed groups of children were far more likely to steal candy and money than both non-costumed kids and those not in a group, via a process called ‘deindividuation’ (or ‘pack mentality’ to you and me).

A number of animal shelters, particularly in the US, refuse to allow people to adopt cats during the Halloween period, for fear that those who dabble in the occult might use them as sacrifices.

In some parts of Ireland, Halloween actually used to be a time when people would play fortune-telling games in an effort to predict their romantic future (that was apparently the origin of the bobbing-for-apples game). Some people in the US continue this tradition.

Jack-o’-lanterns were originally made from turnips, beets and potatoes (Ireland again!). It’s the tale of ‘Stingy Jack’, whom, legend has it, was getting drunk with the devil and convinced old Nick to turn himself into a coin so he could pay for drinks without spending money. However, also in his pocket was a silver cross, which prevented the devil from taking his original form again… his list of tricks went on, but he made the devil promise not to take his soul when he died. When he did die, God decided he wasn’t fit for heaven, but since the devil couldn’t take his soul either, he was cursed to roam the earth, with only a lump of coal for light, which he put into a turnip as a lantern. And so the tradition developed of putting a candle into a carved turnip to scare Stingy Jack away.

Happy Halloween — unless you’re working the emergency department that night.

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