Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Origins of Music: Innateness, Uniqueness, and Evolution

Hello, my article is titled The Origins of Music: Innateness, Uniqueness, and Evolution, and although the entire article focuses on just that, my presentation focuses on explaining how the article was written and researched.
My article was long (24 pages to be exact). If I were to stand here and give a detailed, in-depth presentation of the entire article, I would most likely be standing here for a half hour, maybe even longer. Therefore, I will briefly review the article by talking about how the article is set up. Think of it as an outline to a textbook chapter or a review to a three-hour movie. [next slide]
The article begins by pointing out that music is universal in how it is found in every known human culture, past and present, and how it is incorporated with many cultural events, including weddings, funerals, religious services, dances, sporting events, and solitary listening sessions. The article questions as to why an individual has their own unique musical preferences: is it because of their cultural upbringing or an innate mechanism? The facts that every culture in the world has some form of music and most were developed independently from each other suggest that there seems to be some innate machinery motivating the production and appreciation of music. By giving a detailed account of the innate mechanisms behind music and how they interact with cultural experience, the strong constraints on the evolutionary explanations of music will become clearer.
Music is, by no means, easily defined. The article uses its own definition of music, meaning that music is structured sounds produced directly or indirectly by humans, the sounds are made to convey emotions and to produce enjoyment, and they often have complex structure. The article also describes its use of “innate traits”: traits determined by factors present in an individual from birth, even though the trait may not be present until later on in development. [next slide] As for theoretical background, the article highlights four main points: developmental evidence, comparative evidence, cross-cultural evidence, and neural, or brain, evidence. [next slide]
Developmental evidence deals with the studies of mainly infants, as this is one of the most obvious ways to study whether any aspects of music perception are innate. In a classic setup for an infant study, a sample of music is played repeatedly from a speaker in front of an infant. Once the infant is used to the music, the experimenter conducts test trials, some of which introduce some change to the music sample, such as a key change or rearrangement of the notes. If the infant is sensitive to the change that is made, then they will tend to look longer at the speaker. It is important to study infants because infants lack the cultural exposure that adults have been subject to their whole lives. [next slide]
Comparative evidence works with the studies of animals because it is a way to limit musical exposure and its effects, much like with infants. Some infant and animal tests are the same, such as placing the animal in front of the speaker and watching its reaction as the music changes. Other techniques include training animals to recognize and/or tell the difference between different types of music, only then to be tested with new untrained music to see how they handle it. Why should there be studies on animals and music if we are interested in humans and music? The animal studies show if the trait in question is unique to humans. If the trait is not uniquely human, tests in multiple species can reveal whether it evolved as a homology (inherited from a common ancestor that expressed the trait) or a homoplasy (shared across two distinct lineages lacking a common ancestor with the trait). Also, animal studies can help to establish whether the trait evolved as an adaptation to a particular problem. Comparative studies can provide insights into the evolution of music that are difficult to obtain with other methods. [next slide]
Cross-cultural evidence deals with the studies of music perception in different cultures. The common features of different cultures provide evidence of innate constraints on what people are inclined to perceptually discriminate, remember, and enjoy. Similarities between musical styles from different periods might indicate that there are innate constraints on the music cultures are likely to produce. The features of music that have not undergone change most likely represent musical features that are stable given the brain’s tendencies or constraints. There is some risk to this hypothesis in that common features might have been simply passed down across the ages and are not indications of anything built into the brain. [next slide]
Neural evidence suggest that genetic constraints on music might also be indicated by the existence of brain circuitry dedicated to music, such as the possibility of circuitry that is used primarily during music perception or production. The larger issue, though, is that even if there is evidence that part of the brain functions specifically for music perception, it is difficult to rule out the possibility that the music-specific structures in question emerged through a lifetime of musical experience rather than innate constraints. [next slide]
The article goes in depth by giving countless study examples for each of the four points. If any of you are interested in this topic at all, I suggest reading (or skimming as this is very long and tends to repeat itself) this article as it is filled with different studies and hypothesizes.

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