Sunday, April 21, 2013

Was Steven Pinker right after all? [Part 2]

At the end of the 1990s, cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker infamously characterized music as “auditory cheesecake”: a delightful dessert but, from an evolutionary perspective, no more than a by-product of language. But Pinker was probably right when he wrote: “I suspect music is auditory cheesecake, an exquisite confection crafted to tickle the sensitive spots of...our mental faculties.” Or, to express his idea less graphically: music affects our brains at specific places, thereby stimulating the production of unique substances that have a pleasurable effect on our mood. However, rather than a by-product of evolution, music or more precisely musicality is likely to be a characteristic that survived natural selection in order to stimulate and develop our mental faculties (cf. Honing, 2011).

Pinker’s idea may actually be a very fruitful hypothesis whose significance has wrongfully gone unacknowledged because of all the criticism it elicited. After all, the purely evolutionary explanations for the origins of music largely overlook the experience of music we all share: the pleasure we derive from it, not only from the acrobatics of making it but also from the act of listening to it.

Last week Science published a study (a follow-up of Salimpoor et al., 2011) in which Canadian researchers were able to show precisely that: Music can arouse feelings of euphoria and craving, similar to tangible rewards that involve the striatal dopaminergic system. They were able to show that intense pleasure in response to music can lead to dopamine release in the striatal system, most notably the nucleus accumbens. And, more importantly, the anticipation of an abstract reward can result in dopamine release in an anatomical pathway distinct from that associated with the peak pleasure itself. Salimpoor, V., van den Bosch, I., Kovacevic, N., McIntosh, A., Dagher, A., & Zatorre, R. (2013). Interactions Between the Nucleus Accumbens and Auditory Cortices Predict Music Reward Value Science, 340 (6129), 216-219 DOI: 10.1126/science.1231059

ResearchBlogging.orgSalimpoor, V., Benovoy, M., Larcher, K., Dagher, A., & Zatorre, R. (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music Nature Neuroscience DOI: 10.1038/nn.2726

ResearchBlogging.orgHoning, H. (2011) Musical Cognition. A Science of Listening. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Interested in the relation between dance and music?

Larry Parsons
On Tuesday 16 April 2013  Larry Parsons (University of Sheffield and Centre de Neuroscience Cognitive, CNRS, Lyon, France) will give a CSCA Lecture with the title Neurobiological Basis of Musical Skills and Dancing. He will present functional neuroimaging data on the brain basis of call/response singing, harmonization, improvisational singing, sight-singing duets, music learning in non-musical adults, and the performance of memorized piano pieces. Also discussed will be the relation between neural systems for melodic and sentential generation, emotional musical experiences, and the brain basis of dancing.

For more information, see the website of the CSCA.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Interested in an Assistant Professorship?

The Faculty of Humanities is searching for two Assistant Professors in Musicology (0.5 fte) in the fields of historical, cognitive or cultural musicology. They should be familiar with recent developments in the methodology of musicology and acquainted with current theoretical developments in their respective field. Experience in musical practice and/or experience with digital media and research tools is desirable.  For more information, see here. Deadline for applications is 17 April 2013.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Hebben dieren vrije tijd? [Dutch]

Tijs Goldschmidt
Op vrijdag 19 april spreekt de schrijver en evolutiebioloog Tijs Goldschmidt de derde Kousbroeklezing uit met de titel Vis in bad. De meeste dieren werken periodiek hard, maar er wordt ook veel gelummeld, gehangen en niets gedaan. Hoe kunnen ze zich dat permitteren? Hebben ze 'vrije tijd' of zijn ze schijnvrij? Een beschouwing over zonnetijd, innerlijke tijd, sociale tijd en vooral vrije tijd bij dieren inclusief de mens.

Tijs Goldschmidt is essayist en bioloog. Zijn bekendste boek is Darwins Hofvijver. Hij publiceerde ook verschillende essaybundels. Hij is advisor aan de Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten en gastschrijver van de UvA-Artisbibliotheek (Bijzondere Collecties). In 2004 was hij een van VPRO's zomergasten.

Zie hier voor meer informatie.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Is music a supernormal stimulus?

Fragment of an interview of Richard Dawkins with Steven Pinker for "The Genius of Charles Darwin" (UK Channel 4 Television, 2008).

Pinker explains again why music is not an adaptation but should be seen as a kind of 'supernormal stimulus' - adding the phrase "people in music hate this theory...".

[non-flash version: .mp4,.3gp]

For a full one hour of uncut footage see here.

ResearchBlogging.orgHoning, H. (2011). Muziek is geen luxe... maar wat dan wel? Academische Boekengids, 88, 2-4.

ResearchBlogging.orgHoning, H. (2012). If music isn’t a luxury, what is it? Journal of Music, Technology and Education, 5 (1), 114-117 DOI: 10.1386/jmte.5.1.109_5

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

'Vocal mimicry hypothesis' falsified?

See the video below from Hattori et al. (2013):


More later this week on this blog...

ResearchBlogging.orgHattori, Y., Tomonaga, M., & Matsuzawa, T. (2013). Spontaneous synchronized tapping to an auditory rhythm in a chimpanzee. Scientific Reports, 3 DOI: 10.1038/srep01566.

Confirmation of vocal learning hypothesis instead of falsification?

It was recently shown that rhythmic entrainment, long considered a human-specific mechanism, can be demonstrated in a select group of bird species, and, somewhat surprisingly, not in more closely related species such as nonhuman primates. This observation supports the vocal learning and synchronization hypothesis (Patel, 2006) that suggests that rhythmic entrainment is a by-product of the vocal learning mechanisms that are shared by several bird and mammal species, including humans, but that are only weakly developed, or missing entirely, in nonhuman primates. However, since no evidence of rhythmic entrainment was found in many vocal learners (including dolphins, seals, and songbirds), vocal learning may be necessary, but not sufficient for beat induction – the cognitive mechanism that supports the perception of a regular pulse from a varying rhythm.

Nevertheless, on April Fool's Day another piece of evidence – according to the authors falsifying the above mentioned hypothesis – was published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology reporting on a sea lion (Zalophus californianus) that was able to learn to entrain to the beat of music (Think of Everybody of the Backstreet Boys and Boogie Wonderland of Earth, Wind and Fire).

I have to admit that my library does not have access to the journal, so I have not been able to read the full paper as yet. But the video (included above) mentions a peculiar detail: the authors claim Sea Lions not to be vocal learners, and hence to have 'falsified' the above mentioned vocal learning and synchronization hypothesis. However, in how far pinnipeds have some level of vocal mimicking capabilities is still unclear. This combined with the fact that 'absence of evidence is no evidence of absence' (cf. Fitch [and comments below]), it seems again too early to tell...

ResearchBlogging.orgCook, P., Rouse, A., Wilson, M., & Reichmuth, C. (2013). A California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus) Can Keep the Beat: Motor Entrainment to Rhythmic Auditory Stimuli in a Non Vocal Mimic. Journal of Comparative Psychology DOI: 10.1037/a0032345

ResearchBlogging.orgArnason, U., Gullberg, A., Janke, A., Kullberg, M., Lehman, N., Petrov, E., & Väinölä, R. (2006). Pinniped phylogeny and a new hypothesis for their origin and dispersal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 41 (2), 345-354 DOI: 10.1016/j.ympev.2006.05.022