The Red Spade

In a experiment by psychologists Jerome Bruner and Leo Postman, subjects identify playing cards. What the subjects didn’t know was that they would hide anomaly cards, say a black heart or red spade, in the deck. Little exposure was given to each card in the first couple of rounds: cards would appear in a flash. In these rounds the subjects didn’t even identify the anomaly: they’d call it something else, what made sense, instead.

As the exposure increased later on and the subjects could observe the cards, they started to notice a card that didn’t belong. At first it startled the subjects, second guessing themselves. But soon enough they caught on and the and the anomalies were identified quicker.

The results of this experiment can take on many forms in music. Here are two examples…

Sometimes a band isn’t noticed until the exposure is increased. Then people notice something different about them and give the band extra attention like with the anomalies. And yet as soon as they are expected we’re not following them on pins and needles as much as before. In fact, we move on to the next anomaly, the next big thing.

Someone dismisses experimental music as garbage. The fact of the matter is that she only has had little exposure to it. Like the subjects, she can’t identify the anomalies (ie: good experimental music). With more exposure to this music she soon finds the anomalies, liking a couple of experimental bands.

What Bruner and Postman discovered here are crucial to understanding exposure and acclimation. Both of which are key in the music world.


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