Why Musical Groove Makes Us Move: An Electroencephalographic Investigation

Samantha Reina O'connell


Moving to the groove of the music is a phenomenal and universal human behavior. Common characteristics to most dance music include a salient beat, rhythmic complexity, and a dynamic musical structure. What is unknown, however, is why music has the power to promote physical movement. Musical rhythm and motor processing are tightly linked activating brain areas important for motor preparation and execution. While studies demonstrate that the motor system is active during beat processing, it is still unclear how musical groove, a beat-influenced quality to music that makes us want to move, can engage these motor areas. Here, I performed a novel investigation to understand how high-groove music can enhance sensorimotor processing. In contrast to previous work that utilized transcranial magnetic stimulation, I used electroencephalography to measure motor-related neural activity on a fine temporal scale during continuous music listening. Specifically, I measured the lateralized readiness potential, an event-related potential related to motor activation and response execution. I predicted that music with high amounts of groove would promote sustained motor area engagement. Particularly, I hypothesized that high-groove music, as defined by Janata et al. (2012), would promote greater motor system priming than low-groove music, noise, or silence, resulting in faster neural activation during both response preparation and execution. Furthermore, I anticipated that neural measures would correlate with subjective music ratings, with earlier onsets and greater amplitudes of neural motor activity relating to higher musical groove scores.