Humans are hard-wired for music

Posted on January 14, 2011


Scientists consider dopamine to be an ancient chemical that is essential for survival.

It dishes out feel-good jolts in response for life-supporting actions such as eating and for acquiring ‘secondary’ tangibles such as money. The mechanism can also be triggered by drugs.

But music is abstract, is not directly essential for survival and is not one of these ‘secondary’ or conditioned sources of reward, says the study.

Oh yeah?

The study admits that people produce dopamine in their brains while listening to transcendent music, but somehow this doesn’t mean that music is “essential to survival” in the same way as food, sex or money is, which also produce dopamine in the brain.

The test used by the scientists is people listening to their favourite examples of recorded music.

Am I the only one who sees how stupid their conclusion is?

The scientists are examining the structure of the human brain, and asking a question about the evolutionary advantage of music.

They are trying to find out whether–or why–the love of music is wired into the brain.

Whether it is wired into the brain is answered by the study.  It is.  If it wasn’t hardwired, the brain would not be releasing dopamine–a heavy and emphatic YES in the yes/no of the chemical us.  The brain does not release dopamine on a whim.

Why it is wired into the brain the scientists do not understand. The study strongly indicates that musical tastes are not universal.  But if music isn’t universal then music cannot have universal–and thus evolutionary–advantage, conclude the scientists conducting the study

BUT (and this is me asking the question) how many early modern humans do you think had favourite examples of recorded music?

So how is listening to someone’s favourite pieces of music–even when some such pieces give people in our modern world an involuntary frisson of pleasure–comparible to the experience of music in our ancestral environment, the environment where, after all, our brains grew up?

Perhaps I’m being presumptious here, but, in our ancestral environment didn’t people actually participate in music?  Nobody had radios and tribal societies have few specialists.

In ancestral societies didn’t people dance?  Only humans have rhythm.  Really.  Meaning that only humans can sing and dance in unison.  A very societal social thing.  A very binding thing.  Something that made society a pleasure.  And. Living in society had an evolutionary advantage for humans. Ask anybody.

You don’t think the products of society are a pleasure?  Want to get away to a desert island?

And of course you’ll want to leave the music behind, too.

No music on your desert island, no sir!


Posted in: music