This article was originally featured in MIT Press.
In 2009, my research group It turns out that newborns have the ability to discern the regular pulse, or beat, of music. It may seem like a trivial skill to most of us, but it’s fundamental to creating and appreciating music. This discovery aroused deep curiosity in me. expedition It refers to the biological basis of our innate musical ability, commonly referred to as “musicality.”
In short, experiment It involved playing drum rhythms, sometimes omitting the beat, and observing the newborn’s reactions. Surprisingly, these tiny participants expected the beat to be missing, as their brains showed a clear spike when the note was omitted, indicating a violation of expectations. This discovery not only revealed the musical talent of newborns, but also helped lay the foundation for a burgeoning field dedicated to studying the origins of musicality.
But as with any discovery, skepticism (understandably) emerged. Some colleagues have challenged our interpretation of the results and proposed alternative explanations rooted in the acoustic properties of the stimuli we employed. Others argue that the observed responses are the result of statistical learning and question the validity of another mechanism essential to our musical abilities: beat perception. When learning a new language, young children actively engage in statistical learning, helping them grasp elements such as word order and common accent structures in their native language. Why is the perception of music different?
To address these challenges, in 2015 our group revisited and overhauled previous beat perception research, expanding its scope, methods, and scale to include neonatal, then adult (musician) studies. and non-musicians). And macaque monkeys.
The results were last month. cognition, it is clearly established that beat perception is a separate and distinct mechanism from statistical learning. This research provides: converging evidence Regarding the ability of newborns to perceive pulses. In other words, the study was not just a replication, but used a different paradigm to reach the same conclusion, and therefore succeeded in dispelling persistent doubts.
When the same paradigm was applied to macaque monkeys, 2018, we found no evidence for beat processing, but only sensitivity to rhythmic isochrony (i.e., regularity). This suggests that the evolution of beat perception evolved gradually among primates, culminating in humans, and emerging, albeit with limitations, in other species such as chimpanzees and various other non-human primates. Suggests. This is what I learned from his 2019 book “Evolving animal orchestraThis is a hypothesis that addresses the similarities and differences found in rhythm perception (and production) between humans and non-human primates. The study suggests that connections between the motor and auditory areas of the brain are more strongly wired in humans than in chimpanzees and gibbons, whereas they are almost absent in macaques.
What does this study show about the origins of music, and why is it important? Integrating the results of the new study with previous work, two different paradigms demonstrate the function of beat processing in neonates. Convergent evidence is obtained. This adds weight to the debate regarding the biological basis of beat perception itself. This study not only contributes to our understanding of the biological basis of musicality, but also highlights the complex and multifaceted nature of the ability to perceive and engage with rhythmic elements in the auditory environment. Music is thus not just a cultural phenomenon, but has deep biological roots and clearly confers an evolutionary advantage to our species.
There is currently growing interest in the exciting prospect of bringing the study of the evolutionary origins of musicality to the forefront of international research. This previously speculative field investigates the biological processes that began millions of years ago and potentially shaped human nature over the past millennia. Despite the challenges posed by the fact that music does not fossilize and our musical brains leave no physical traces, a paradigm shift has occurred in recent decades that has pushed the field towards empirical exploration. I changed direction.
Along with psychology and neuroscience, biology and genomics It now provides an effective toolkit for empirically testing theories about the origins of modern music. As a result, the study of musicality has become scientifically evaluated, consistent, and mature. The once speculative origins of musicality research have given way to a more concrete and scientifically rigorous approach, making it exciting for those exploring the mysteries of our musical evolution. It has become a promising method.
Henkjan Horning Professor of Music Cognition at the University of Amsterdam and author of “.The evolving animal orchestra: In search of what makes us music” Editor.Origin of musicality”