The universal language of music may have a humanising effect and reduce feelings of prejudice between people from different racial backgrounds, say scientists. Researchers recorded a mock news story featuring an Arab and an American actor playing music together. They then showed the video clip to US participants who were not Arab.
The team found that when viewing the two cultures collaborating on music, individuals in the study were prone to report more positive perceptions – less of a prejudiced view -of Arabs. “Music would not have developed in our civilisations if it did not do very important things to us,” said Jake Harwood, a professor at the University of Arizona (UA) in the US.
“It allows us to communicate common humanity to each other. It models the value of diversity in ways you don’t readily see in other parts of our lives,” said Harwood. The benefits were notable, even when individuals did not play musical instruments themselves. Merely listening to music produced by outgroup members helped reduce negative feelings about outgroup members, Harwood said.
“It’s not just about playing Arab music. But if you see an Arab person playing music that merges the boundary between mainstream US and Arab, then you start connecting the two groups,” Harwood said. “The act of merging music is a metaphor for what we are trying to do: Merging two perspectives in music, you can see an emotional connection, and its effect is universal,” said Farah Qadar, who was a graduate researcher at UA at the time of the research.
In another study, researchers measured people’s appreciation for diversity, gauging how they felt about members of other groups. The team then asked people to listen to music from other cultures and then report how much they enjoyed the music and what they perceived of the people the music represented.
The team found that people who value diversity are more likely to enjoy listening to music from other cultures, and that act of listening furthers one’s pro-diversity beliefs. Harwood also said artists such as Eminem and Rihanna are among those who are experimenting with music that crosses cultural boundaries.
“We must think about music as a human, social activity rather than a sort of beautiful, aesthetic hobby and appreciate how fundamental it is to us all,” he said. “We can then begin to see people from other groups as more human and begin to recategorize one another as members as the same group,” he added.
The research was published in the Journal of Communication.