Saturday, November 03, 2007

Is beat induction special?

In the 1990s several researchers in cognitive science were concerned with trying to understand beat induction: the cognitive process of attributing a regular pulse to a musical fragment, the beat we're sometimes forced to tap our foot to.

I would like to argue that, from an evolutionary perspective, beat induction is one, if not the most fundamental aspect that made music possible. It allows us, humans, to synchronize, to dance, to clap, and to make music together, synchronizing to the beat of the music. Beat induction seems essential for all kinds of social and cultural activities, including rituals.

Interestingly, we do not share this capability with other animals. Researchers have, until now, unsuccessfully tried to have non-human animals —such as chimpanzees and elephants— synchronize to music. While non-human animals might show rhythmic behavior (like chimpanzees using tools) , they can not, for instance, play a drum in synchrony with the music, and consequently change it while the music changes tempo. However, some researchers, like Ani Patel of the Neuroscience Institute San Diego (see *), are optimistic.

For me, personally, there is no need to show that beat induction is solely a human trait, but it suggests that beat induction could have made a difference in the cognitive development of the human species.

* Patel, A.D. & Iversen, J.R. (2006). A non-human animal can drum a steady beat on a musical instrument. In: Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Music Perception & Cognition (ICMPC9), Bologna/Italy, August 22-26 2006, p. 477.

1 comment:

Boudewijn said...

I must say that beats improved my learning capabilities. Last week I am graduated becoming Master of Science, and this could not have happened without the stimulating relaxing repeating sound of beats.

It is also enabling me to me make a open source eLearning Wiki Dutch elearning wiki

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