Playing AC/DC’s Thunderstruck while riding may be dangerous to some motorcyclists, according to psychologist and rider Sharon Ledger.
In a previous article Sharon outlined how music can have good and bad effects on different riders.
Even if you are the type of rider who benefits from music, the type of music you listen to can have positive and negative effects on your riding, Sharon says.
“The best type of music for riding is anything that makes you feel happy,” she says.
“If it brings back pleasant personal memories or triggers good thoughts, that increases the serotonin level in your brain which increases the firing in your brain and makes it more active.
“When you are feeling good you make good decisions.
“You take on more challenging tasks and are more confident and smoother in your riding skills.
“Music that puts you in a bad mood figuratively shuts your brain down because it induces negative feelings.
“People who feel negative lack confidence and make mistakes.
“If you are feeling anxious you are more jerky in your movements and not able to make smooth transitions.”
However, as with most psychological theories, there are always counter arguments.
Sharon says music that makes you feel good can also make you feel over-confident.
“If you are over-confident, you think ‘yeah, I can take that corner faster’,” she says.
“Instead of using the cognitive part of your brain to make reasonable decisions, you are just reacting to situations instead of making valued judgements.”
The Thunderstruck theory
Sharon says Thunderstruck was used in a study to gauge its effect on performance.
It was compared with a Mozart piece and the ominous sounds of an operating theatre.
The males in the psychological experiment were slower to react and made more mistakes when listening to Thunderstruck than either the Mozart music or operating theatre noise.
“Thunderstruck is a fast and exciting song,” she says. “If you are listening to Thunderstruck, you are perhaps be a bit more careless because you get that superhuman feeling.”
Sharon says were women were less affected in the tests, demonstrating their greater ability to multi-task.
“A woman can watch a movie, do the ironing and listen to the kids reciting their homework, all at once. A guy would have to stop. He wouldn’t hear everything,” she says.
It could also be the speed of the AC/DC song which causes the problems for some.
Sharon says it is has been demonstrated in psychological tests that faster beats make your brain more active and make you ride or drive faster.
“On one hand it could make you ride more dangerously, yet it also increases your reaction times, which may improve rider safety” she says.
“Fast music puts you in a fight-or-flight reflex situation. It increases the blood to your muscles and takes blood away from your brain.
“You don’t think as clearly. It increase your reflexes, but are they the right reflexes?
“It’s taking blood away from the executive functioning area of the brain and sending more to the muscles to respond to situations. It’s more reaction than action.
“If you are not using the cognitive part of the brain, you are just reacting.”
If it’s too slow and/or monotonous it can also make you drowsy as it slows your heart rate.
Sharon says the most suitable speed for music so it doesn’t distract you from riding is about 60-80 beats per minute which is similar to your heart beat.
“I’d avoid music with complex, changing rhythms like jazz or thrash metal,” she suggests.
Turn it up to 11
Volume can also affect a rider’s safety levels, Sharon says.
“If it’s too loud, it becomes overwhelming for the brain and attracts too much attention,” she says.
“It can also drown out important sounds such as screeching brakes, emergency vehicle sirens, etc.
“If it’s too quiet you over-concentrate in order to hear it.
“Your music should not be so loud it blocks out things you need to hear, but loud enough to drown out the white noise of the wind and engine roar.
“You need to find the sweet spot in volume.”
Types of music
Sharon says there is conflicting evidence about the distraction of familiar and unfamiliar music.
She says familiar music can distract your concentration because it encourages you to sing along, but it can also just wash over you and not distract your attention.
Meanwhile, unfamiliar music can fade into the background or force you to listen for the first time.
She says syncopated music makes you want to dance which keeps your blood flowing around your body.
“Instrumental music can be effective for concentration as human speech often attracts your attention and distracts you,” she says.
“That’s why its used so extensively in video games.”
The best type of music is difficult to pin down, she says.
“Once again, you need to find that sweet spot in music that is rhythmic, likeable, well-known so you don’t have to concentrate, but new enough to keep you interested with an elevated mood, predictable and melodious. Rock and pop music fits this pattern,” she says.
Perhaps music that actually includes a motorbike as the instrument could be effective like this Indian YouTube video which uses a couple of old Royal Enfields to reproduce a cover of Ed Sheeran’s hit single, Shape of You.
It uses the kick start, seat, wheels, exhaust, even the keys, to make the instrumental backing track for singer Gaurang Soni.
“It’s down to personal preference and taste and experience,” Sharon says.
“Find out what music works best for you: fast, slow, medium, loud, soft, rock, jazz, instrumental, opera or whatever.
“Anything that lifts your mood and doesn’t put you in a trance or make you feel sad, is ok.
“As far as I’m concerned having some music is better than having no music at all when I’m riding. And I love listening to Thunderstruck.”