Why do we like a song
Question to the brain
Tecumseh Fitch, Department of Cognitive Psychology, University of Vienna: The question assumes that our love for music must have arisen evolutionarily. But I have to say: we don't know. What is there are different hypotheses.
The oldest hypothesis is that music could have evolved through sexual selection. The purpose would then have been to impress the opposite sex and scare away members of your own - also a form of impressing. Then human song would have a very similar function to that of birds. Darwin already worked out this idea. But the evidence for this is not so numerous.
Nowadays the idea is more widespread that music is used for group cohesion. There is some evidence that it helps strengthen group bonds and work better together. This school of thought goes back to researchers like Robin Dunbar or Ian Cross and is one of the leading hypotheses today.
Alternatively, music could be used for parent-child interaction. Our adult love of music would then be a holdover from mother-baby communication. I see strong evidence of this. Mothers all over the world sing for their children. Lullabies help babies fall asleep and play songs keep them awake. Sandra Trehub has collected a lot of data on this; Dean Falk is one of the most prominent representatives of this idea.
And then there is the thought that music may not be an adaptation of its own, but only uses the circuits in the brain for other purposes. This is what Steven Pinker and, more recently, Aniruddh Patel stand for. Pinker calls the music “auditory cheesecake”: We don't ask for cheesecake because of evolution, but for the fat and sugar it contains. And so it is not the music that evolved, but its components. Differentiating pitches helps, for example, to identify the gender of someone else. And we also need the ability to follow complex structures for language.
Neither of these hypotheses is a complete answer to the question of what draws us to music. But they all lead to different answers, make different predictions about the development of this preference. I presented this in more detail in a 2006 review.
And maybe we just have to get used to the fact that science doesn't always have all the answers ready.
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