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Posted Monday November, 9th 2020

Neuroscience reveals how rhythm helps us walk, talk — and even love

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Rhythm begins in the womb and the heartbeat.

And recent findings in neuroscience reveal that for the rest of our lives, rhythm will continue to have a fundamental impact on our ability to walk, talk — and even love.

Take a scenario almost all of us have experienced before. You're at a wedding. Everyone's talking, drinking, milling around. Then the DJ plays that one song — and suddenly, everyone rushes to the dance floor, as if obeying a collective siren call. Some tunes just make us want to move, even if we've never heard them before — but why?

It all comes down to rhythm.

Before becoming a world-renowned neuroscientist, Daniel Levitin was an accomplished record producer in California. He's worked with Carlos Santana, Blue Oyster Cult, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder and countless other musicians. He says that when we hear a rhythm we like, our neurons begin to fire in time with the music. And when those neurons start pulsing, our body can't help but follow along.

According to the author of This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, elite athletes have been taking advantage of this principle for decades, even if they're not fluent in the neuroscience behind it.

Sprinters may listen to music with a tempo that's slightly faster than their natural running gait. The neurons begin firing at this new tempo and the body follows suit, supercharging the athlete's performance in a way that would have been impossible without the aid of that rhythmic jolt.

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