Saturday, August 01, 2009

Music and evolution

Music has been named God's gift to the human race.  Now here's this from the BBC:

Chimpanzees are biologically programmed to appreciate pleasant music.

The discovery comes from experiments showing that an infant chimpanzee prefers to listen to consonant music over dissonant music.

That suggests the apes are born with an innate appreciation of pleasant sounds, say scientists in the journal Primates.

Until now, this was thought to be a universal human trait, but the new finding suggests it evolved in the ancestors of humans and modern apes.


Across all six sessions, Sakura pulled on the cord to voluntarily listen to the pleasurable music significantly more often than to the dissonant passages.

"Our main surprise was the results being so consistent," says Hashiya. "She rapidly learnt the rule of the setup and consistently produced consonant music over dissonant music for longer duration."

The discovery that an infant chimp, with no prior exposure to music, innately prefers to listen to consonant melodies could have important implications for how an appreciation for music evolved.

"Music is one of the universal human natures beyond cultures, just like language," says Hashiya.

But it was always thought that it was a uniquely human trait, one present even in babies just a few days old.

"The preference for consonant music over dissonant music in an infant chimpanzee has implications for the debate surrounding human uniqueness in the capacity for music appreciation," the researchers write in Primates.


...Sakura's appreciation for consonant melodies "specifically suggests that one of the major factors that constitute musical appreciation might not be unique to humans: instead it might be something that we share with our phylogenetically closest relatives," say the researchers.

Hashiya explains that it is very difficult to rule out whether young human infants have had prior exposure to music on the radio or in their family's house before they are tested.

"To figure out the response of Sakura, we have to consider her lack of music experience, which should draw a clear contrast with ordinary human infants. It supports the view that the preference is independent of cultural experience," he says.

The researchers hope to study the effect further.

For now they speculate that the chimps' innate preference for pleasurable melodies may serve some biological function in the wild, perhaps helping them detect other chimps' voices above other sounds, for example.

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