So a song plays on your 'Trending Now' Spotify playlist, and you absolutely love it. But to your friend, it sounds like a cross between a screaming child at MacDonald's and a cat that got its tail accidentally stepped on. Why is this so?

The reason there's such a large difference in the way we hear music (and other sounds) isn’t just due to different tastes, it's also due to the way we individually hear sounds.


It has to do with our bones

No one has been able to fully understand the process of how humans physically hear sounds, and then translate it into an emotional experience. But Harvard Medical School has recently begun breaking down the process: When the inner ear receives sounds, it triggers a reaction from the various brain cells responsible for transmitting the information to your brain. This triggering reaction forms different types of aural patterns that touch different parts of the brain. This may explain why we associate certain sounds with certain feelings and memories.

Another theory also has to do with the way our skulls are shaped. Everyone has different bone structures, including the bones around our ears, which may explain why we hear the same noise but in slightly different ways.

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 2.26.05 AM.png

According to the Acoustical Society of America, even the slightest differences in bone density can change the way our brain receives and processes sound waves. Women’s skulls tend to vibrate faster than the skulls of men. This suggests that our likes and dislikes of certain music styles might be due to the physical structure of our skulls. The reason why you hate country music so much might actually be because your head is shaped differently! 

This also impacts our language and math skills

Another study that the Acoustical Society of America did was to expose children to different types of music to see whether the way they process sound can affect other areas of learning. The results were pretty fascinating. The children who were exposed more to music lighter in tone such as Classical music and Jazz tend to process language and maths with higher efficiency. So now you know what genre of music you need to put on loop when cramming for exams. 

It might seem kind of a waste of time to spend all that money and effort into studying how we process sound. It might explain why we love or hate certain kinds of music, but that doesn't help the world become a better place. Or does it?

There is actually a more practical reason for understanding this research - it has the potential to help in creating more efficient hearing aids, and it may also help programmers improve speech recognition programs. So the next time you ask Siri something, you know who to thank.