At Institut Marquès we are conducting a very important line of research on the effect of music on humans, which goes from the day we become an oocyte until the moment we’re born.
I’ll inform you about these discoveries as we’re publishing them. Some of them are so amazing that I had to read theories about the origin of life in order to understand their meaning.
I want to share with you the summary of my conclusions. Bear in mind that they’re only my personal suggestions after asking myself about the significance of music. Why has music always been present throughout history?
Using music to communicate
Music is the most ancient form of communication between humans, communication using sounds, gestures and dances preceded the spoken language. The first language was more musical than verbal, and, nowadays, we instinctively keep on talking to babies with a high tone and melody because we know it’s the way they understand us better (as they realize that we want to communicate with them).
With the natural selection, the humans that survived were the ones that developed better communication skills. These skills were necessary to live in groups that were becoming bigger and safer every day.
For that reason, biology strengthened the human singing abilities: the musical ability was an adaptation imposed as a method to improve survival.
Music is the greatest incentive that humans have to communicate, more than the language. The reason is because it induces emotions; allows us to pass a message that has emotional charge.
Music that moves us
In addition, music is a universal language of emotions; the ear is sensitive to tones and melodies that cause the same determinate moods to different people. The human perception of determinate musical sound patterns causes the same feelings of happiness, sadness or fear to all of us. An Asian person feels happiness with ascending tones of music played on the Spanish guitar, and sadness with descending beats.
This ability of inducing an emotional mood that is common to all of us fosters relationships, cohesion and social bonds.
Why do we play the anthem of a team before the match? Every time we gather for an event, music is present: weddings, funerals, university graduations, military parades, sport events, prayers, romantic dinners or when a mother gently rocks her baby. Nowadays, in the modern societies, we listen to music and we value the dance but we barely sing or dance. I think we’ve replaced the music as a way of communication and instead, we write, make phone calls, send emails, etc. We use music as an instigator of pleasure and it’s considered culture and art.
Music to learn
According to some theories, the development of music was evolutionary because it stimulates the learning process. It stimulates the attention and memory systems; we all know that it’s easier to learn the times tables with music and also how we remember the lyrics of a song even after many years without hearing it.
Apparently, without the ability of musical hearing we wouldn’t be able to learn a language.
Music and matching
With the evolution of mankind’s verbal communication, the sexual courtship went from fighting to nonviolent persuasion using songs or one’s physical appearance.
The purpose of music in the sexual selection also exists in other species like birds; the males are capable of composing new melodies and the longer and elaborated the repertoire is, the faster the female ovulates.
Music allows showing the sexual aptitudes. Tribal dances are based in good muscles and energy (physical health), the rhythm (mental health) and the singing (creativity). Anthropologically, these were the male characteristics that attracted women because they represented the signs of protection and food for their children. Miller, from the University of California, explains that women maintain these sexual likings in their genes and according to his research, women (during their ovulation) have the same preferences as prehistoric women.
There are studies that confirm that rock singers are the men who have more relations –regardless of their physical appearance, women want to have sexual relations with them without getting married. Sex and maternity has been separated, women want them for sex but not as fathers. Nowadays, we’ve other social and cultural conditions, and according to authors like Miller, the father selection is more associated to the economical capacity of the male.
Music as a courtship method is especially obvious during adolescence –these instincts are stronger when the body is getting ready for reproduction.
Music and pleasure
Without doubt, music is a stimulus of pleasure. The “nucleus accumbens” is formed by a group of neurons of the encephalon, his stimulation produces dopamine –a substance that makes us feel good. This nucleus is the center of pleasure for sex, food, cocaine, heroin, nicotine, game addictions and, since 2013 is known that it’s also the center of pleasure for music (Valorie Salimpoor).
Anthropologically, sexual pleasure (which only exists in human and dolphins) can be explained as an incentive for reproduction. Let me explain:
If the early man, who didn’t have much food, had not obtained pleasure as a reward of sexual relations, he would have avoided wasting his energy, which would have endangered the evolution of the specie.
The same for the woman: she would have avoided having children if she didn’t have any pleasure during sex. That’s the reason why I said that sexual pleasure is an incentive for reproduction. In addition, it generates a desire of repeating these actions!
I suppose that in order to reinforce all the important actions for survival, our brains develop mechanisms to encourage and reward these behaviours.
Humans have learnt to pass over the original activities to access directly the reward system. We eat, just for pleasure, foods without any nutrients, we have sex without procreating or we listen to music without company –the center of pleasure of the limbic system cannot distinguish these actions.
That means that it’s possible that the theories regarding the origin of music are true. That, during evolution, the music has been kept as a courtship instigator and as a communication tool between members of the tribe. And in modern times we don’t need it anymore for that purpose, but we still use it to stimulate the receptors of pleasure in our brain.
Perhaps, music keeps on waking up the same old reactions in the nucleus of our brains.