4 Facts that prove we are a musical species
1) Music has existed since the dawn of civilization and every known society practices some form of music .
Evolutionary scientists believe that music likely contributed to the survival and expansion of the human species because of its important role in emotional processing, communication between people, and the maintenance of connection with large groups of people.
Some of the oldest human artifacts ever found (which date as far back as 30,000-60,000 years) were bone flutes, jaw harps, and percussive instruments. Listen to Neanderthal jams here!
2) Music occupies more areas of brain than language does.
Brain-imaging studies of both healthy individuals and individuals with brain injuries demonstrate that there is no specialized brain center for music. Processing of the various musical components is distributed across many areas of the brain, including those typically associated with other cognitive systems.
In 1953, Russian composer Vissarion Shebalin suffered a stroke that left him unable to speak or understand spoken language. However, he retained his ability to write music until he died ten years later.
In a 1997 study at Cornell University, researchers who exposed subjects to music found consistent patterns of physiological responses to music, including changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, processes which are regulated by the brain’s medulla oblongata.
3) Infants as young as 2-months-old respond to music.
Research has shown that babies have innate musical preferences and sensitivities, preferring consonant note intervals to dissonant ones. They can also detect wrong notes, changes in melodic contour, and changes in tempo.
In addition, young infants are sensitive to a more diverse range of music than older infants. Western music typically adheres to simple meters, while other cultures utilize complex meters. Young Western infants can detect changes in both simple and complex meters. However, by 12 months, after a process known as “perceptual narrowing” occurs in their developing brains, Western infants are only able to detect changes in simple meters.
4) Music evokes pleasure just like food, sex, and drugs
A study in Canada’s McGill University found that the same neurotransmitter released during sex and eating is also released when people listen to music they like.
In another McGill study, researchers scanned the brains of musicians who experienced chills of euphoria when listening to music, and found that the music (or rather, the anticipation of it) stimulated the brain’s same reward systems that are activated by food, sex, and addictive drugs.
So the next time you consider delving into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked, crank this up instead. Don’t do both though! Research (including The Tufts University Diet and Nutrition Letter) suggests that listening to music while eating is associated with higher rates of food intake.
If that doesn’t convince you, watch Bobby McFerrin, a world-renowned vocalist, conductor, ten-time Grammy Award winner, and staunch advocate for music education, as he proves it with an experiment on his Ted Talk audience.
For more on Bobby Mcferrin, check out his website.