Events

How can we study the biological evolution of the human capacity for music? Over the past century, theories of music’s origins have abounded, with little data to constrain them. One prominent debate has centered on the issue of adaptation: were human bodies and brains specifically shaped for musical behaviors by natural selection, or did music (like reading and writing) arise as a human creation without impetus from biology? This debate has gone on since Darwin’s time and will likely be with us for many years to come. In this talk I argue for a different approach to studying the evolution of our musical abilities, based on empirical research. I will discuss comparative studies with birds aimed at understanding the evolutionary history of human melodic and rhythmic processing. One set of studies focuses on our ability to recognize melodies when they are shifted up or down in pitch (transposed). The other set of studies focuses on our capacity to perceive a beat in music and move in synchrony with it. The results of these studies suggest that these two aspects of music processing likely involve cognitive and neural specializations which have distinct evolutionary histories.