Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Survival of the Harmonious: Why do we respond to music?

In Survival of the Harmonious, the Boston Globe reports on recent research into the origins of music and what, if any, evolutionary advantage it provided to early humans.

According to the article, neuroscientists "have scanned musicians' brains and found that the 'chills' that they feel when they hear stirring passages of music result from activity in the same parts of the brain stimulated by food and sex." No comment :-)

Apparently researchers have four competing theories for the origin of music:
  • "Music originated as a way for males to impress and attract females" - we'll call that the rock star theory
  • "Others see its roots in the relationship between mother and child" - the lullaby theory
  • "Music was a social adhesive, helping to forge common identity in early human communities" - maybe the national anthem theory?
  • "And a few leading evolutionary psychologists argue that music has no adaptive purpose at all, but simply manages, as the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker has written, to `tickle the sensitive spots' in areas of the brain that evolved for other purposes." - the not-everything-that-feels-good-has-to-have-a-purpose theory
Since I'm not an evolutionary psychologist, I don't have a theory of my own, but all of these make some sense to me, as does a fifth: Music fills a spiritual need in humans. Yeah, I know -- that opens a whole new, not-necessarily-scientific can of worms, but there you are.

I'm off to tickle my brain's sensitive spots with a little Def Leppard ;-)

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