An unexpected reaction to a Justin Bieber song has led to new research from The Australian National University (ANU) which could radically change the way we listen to music.  

PhD researcher Jessica Sharmin Rahman says while we’re surrounded by music every day, we don’t know much about its impact on our body. 

“I’m not a Bieber fan – but it turns out my brain is!” Ms Sharmin Rahman said. 

“When I heard his 2015 song ‘Love Yourself’ I’m a bit embarrassed to say I didn’t hate it – in fact, it gave me chills. 

“Then I realised this type of reaction is actually surprisingly common. So I decided to deep dive into examining the impact music has on our brain – with the help of artificial intelligence.” 

As part of her research, Ms Sharmin Rahman asks people to listen to music while wearing a watch and headset to record physiological signals – for example sweat glands on the skin, heart rate and brain waves. 

“Using this data I’ve built an AI system that learns from the participant’s physiological responses as they listen to music. The system then predicts the emotions they are feeling, almost better than they can,” Ms Sharmin Rahman said. 

“96 per cent of the time my system knows what genre of music they’re listening to and how it makes them feel.” 

Ms Sharmin Rahman hopes her work will help improve people’s mental health. 

“The chills and tingles we get while listening to music have an effect on our neurological activity,” she said. 

“Devices such as smartwatches could learn your responses and suggest music to improve your emotional wellbeing – and songs to avoid. Imagine listening to Spotify for your health!” 

Ms Sharmin Rahman was the People’s Choice winner in the 2020 ANU Three Minute Thesis competition.  

Top image: Jessica Sharmin Rahman. Photo: Jamie Kidston/ANU

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