Scales, Culture, Perception, and Neural Re-Wiring


I watched the videos for the World Science Festival – Notes and Neurons this week. The third video showed an interesting experiment that goes right to the heart of culture and it’s inhibiting effect on change. A singer from India listens to a excert of music and is then asked to add to it, and she sings her notes. The scale used in the excerpt is not the usual western diatonic major scale, but an Indian version which features a flatted second. She sings her part, extending the original excerpt, using the Indian scale.

Then off to Tufts University where the same experiment is repeated, now with an American singer. She hears the Indian music, and sings her part, but when she does, she uses the western major scale in her vocal response. What she heard, and what she sang in response were not using the same scale. The neuroscientists describing this assert that culture, and cultural exposure to a particular way of hearing and playing music are the reasons for the different responses to the same music. After a while, the American singer starts to hear the flatted second and incorporates it into her singing. But this takes some time.

Culture provides the context for perception, and the perceptions of these two women were quite different, even though they were exposed to the same information. Think about that in the context of business transformation and why it is so hard. Delivering information is only the first step. Then comes repetition, and reprogramming of the brain to adapt thinking, or change culture. The science is compelling.

Remember that when you learn a new idea, you need immersion, repetition, and practice before the idea will stick. In a large organization, when the majority is listening to “the usual scale”, a small band of change agents and early adopters have to work twice as hard as everyone else until their brains are sufficiently re-wired. Then they continue to work hard to help re-wire the brains of others. Old habits die hard.

Check out the World Science Festival – Notes and Neurons, it is truly fascinating and entertaining.

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One thought on “Scales, Culture, Perception, and Neural Re-Wiring

  1. Watched the first 3 and they were very intersting. Agree that it’s about exposure, repetition and of course the willingness to embrace change. Thanks for sharing.

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