Where your taste in music comes from

Your taste in music might have more to do with the culture around you than how your brain is wired.

Scientists previously thought that musical preference is rooted in the brain, but a new study of a remote Amazonian society suggests that musical tastes are cultural in origin.

It turns out that the preference for consonant sounds -- which include the combination of notes in the classic chords of C and G, often heard in pop music -- varies across nations and is strongest in Western cultures, said Josh McDermott, assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and lead author of the study.

"This indicates that the preference for consonance depends on exposure to particular types of music, probably those that feature harmony in which some combinations of notes are prioritized over others," he said. "If it were 'hardwired,' one would not expect such dramatic cultural variation; everyone would be expected to have a robust preference."

Consonance vs. dissonance

For the study, which was published in the journal Nature last month, McDermott and his colleagues traveled to the Amazonian rainforest in rural northwest Bolivia where the Tsimane village is located. The Tsimane village has limited access to the outside world.

The researchers asked more than 100 Tsimane study participants to rate the pleasantness of various sounds. Some of the sounds were combinations of notes that form a consonant chord, and some were dissonant chords. (You can hear these sounds in the video below.)