Pop songs might not be everyone’s taste. But could listening to the smooth sounds of artists like Justin Bieber be good for your health?

We all have our guilty pleasures when it comes to the music we listen to – but could a bit of Justin Bieber be good for you?

The answer is yes, according to the work of PhD researcher Jessica Sharmin Rahman, who is based in the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science.

She says while we’re surrounded by music every day, we don’t know much about its impact on our body. Inspired by Bieber himself, she decided to dig a bit deeper.

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

“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. I decided to deep dive into 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 participants’ physiological responses as they listen to music. The system then predicts the emotions they are feeling, almost better than they can,” Ms Sharmin Rahman says.

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

PhD researcher Jessica Sharmin Rahman. Photo: Jamie Kidston/ANU

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 says.

“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.

Watch her presentation at ANU TV on YouTube.

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