Written by Luke Alex Davis 10:56 pm Sampling

Music sampling used to study cultural conformity bias

A psychologist at City University of New York used samples on commercial releases to study cultural conformity bias in groups of people.

People following each other off a cliff as a representation of conformity bias.
(credit: s1501 on DeviantArt)

Music sampling has made its way into the halls of City University of New York. Mason Youngblood is a psychologist at the university and his paper from September 2019 and compared how different artists used samples. The goal – to gain a better understanding of cultural conformity bias.

What is conformity bias?

Conformity bias is a tendency to follow the actions of others to shape how we behave instead of using our own independent judgment based on logic and developed understanding.

Youngblood noted that “other researchers had found that some types of frequency-based bias in music often drove cultural diversity on a large scale”. So he used music sampling as a learning gateway to the study of cultural conformity bias.

One of the fundamental questions of cultural evolutionary research is how individual-level processes scale up to generate population-level patterns. Previous studies in music have revealed that frequency-based bias (e.g. conformity and novelty) drives large-scale cultural diversity in different ways across domains and levels of analysis. Music sampling is an ideal research model for this process because samples are known to be culturally transmitted between collaborating artists, and sampling events are reliably documented in online databases.

An excerpt from the abstract of Mason Youngblood’s paper, “Conformity bias in the cultural transmission of music sampling traditions”

As an example, Youngblood used the Amen break and analysed how artists used it in different genres. His findings lead to his suggestion that the differences in sample use indicated “the conservative nature of the genre despite its reputation as being quite the opposite”.

You can read the full paper, “Conformity bias in the cultural transmission of music sampling traditions”, on the Royal Society Publishing website.

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