Human Brain Evolved with Preference for Music

Since the dawn of modern medicine, scientists have been trying to define the differences between humans and primates. While many differences, such as the genome sequence, have been studied, other areas have been largely ignored. Until recently, research focused on how humans and primates differ when listening to music has not been sought after avenue of research.    While primates and humans process visual information similarly, meaning we see the world in similar ways, there are vast differences between how we process sounds and hear the world around us. To set the record straight and fill the informational void, scientists from MIT, the National Institute of Health, and the Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research of the National Eye Institute collaborate to study the auditory differences between macaque monkeys and humans. 

Pitch and Harmonic Tones

Speech and music contain similar components which are considered to have a certain pitch or a specific quality of sound and vibrations. The study concluded that certain areas of the human brain reacted strongly to pitch while the monkeys did not react strongly towards the sounds. But what does this study mean? It’s possible that pitch or similar musical sounds helped shape the organization of the human brain throughout our evolution. 

Same Sounds, Different Experiences

At first, the brain scans showed a similar experience from both the humans and monkeys participating in the study. Each of the participants was able to hear the same sounds well, but after a closer look, it was clear the different species were perceiving the sounds much differently.    Monkeys have a harder time differentiating music from other noises. It does not seem to have any significance to them other than an awareness of its presence. Humans, on the other hand, had a much more intense reaction on their brain scans when musical sounds with pitch and tonal structure were added. 

Raising More Questions

The study has begun to answer critical questions regarding the human experience throughout our evolution. Music undoubtedly has had a profound influence on us from the way they hear the world and how we perceive the world around us. While many questions were answered by this study, it raises many more. At what point did we develop this incredible ability to perceive music the way we do and why? How did our ancestors hear the world around them? We may never truly know the answers to these questions, but the pursuit of this knowledge could open many different avenues of study as yet unknown.