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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2005 Dec;1060:6-16.

Probing the evolutionary origins of music perception.

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Perceptual Science Group, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NE20-444, 3 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, 02139.


Empirical data have recently begun to inform debates on the evolutionary origins of music. In this paper we discuss some of our recent findings and related theoretical issues. We claim that theories of the origins of music will be usefully constrained if we can determine which aspects of music perception are innate, and, of those, which are uniquely human and specific to music. Comparative research in nonhuman animals, particularly nonhuman primates, is thus critical to the debate. In this paper we focus on the preferences that characterize most humans' experience of music, testing whether similar preferences exist in nonhuman primates. Our research suggests that many rudimentary acoustic preferences, such as those for consonant over dissonant intervals, may be unique to humans. If these preferences prove to be innate in humans, they may be candidates for music-specific adaptations. To establish whether such preferences are innate in humans, one important avenue for future research will be the collection of data from different cultures. This may be facilitated by studies conducted over the internet.

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