PSY274 Lecture 11
- On the nature of human communication, a glance backward through PSY274
o Character of human communication (e.g. compared to animal communication) is
Features of the primary communicative system
How the communication system is used, and its relationship to other
psychological domains (thinking, societal structures…)
o Today: another expression of the human communicative impulse
- MUSIC and Human communication
o How music relate to concepts of communication and language
o Features of music perception and cognition
o Effects of experience with music
- Important side note
o Thinking about music in its unprofessionalized form, more general way
o Division of individuals into “experts” (performers) and “nonexperts”
(audiences/consumers) is a recent development in human history and specific to certain
- Some initial questions
o Is music a form of communication?
Does music fit a standard definition of communication?
Can music be seen as evolving or suit some communicative need/function?
o More specific questions
Could music be a by-product of language abilities?
How do the formal characteristics of music and language compare?
- Does music “fit” a standard definition of communication
o Image of communication chains
- Language undoubtedly fits into this framework. Does music?
o In some ways, but not a complete match
o E.g. singing to yourself (no recipient)
People may argue that you can talk to yourself
Jamming with friends, instrumental music
Agent(s) and recipient(s) are same, transmission by different agents can be
synchronous, rather than alternating
o e.g. some (non-western) cultures: music typically takes form of collective (group)
engagement involving movement, rarely one-to-one transmission
interesting side note: some languages lack separate terms for music and dance
motor performance for dance is a motor for music
- Other differences: o The “message” in music is often known in advance (e.g. the song that will be played; but
some exceptions, such as improvisation in jazz music). Communication in language is
- Music scored advanced
o Human communication is usually unpredictable and unscripted
- Can music be seen as evolving to suit some communicative need or function?
o Proposals regarding the ‘communicative function’ of music, from an evolutionary
o Mate selection?
(e.g. analogous to bird singing), BUT: unexpected that both male and female
humans produce music then?
o Conflict resolution
If we all engage in music, then we forget/escape from grievances
o Safe time passing
(e.g. when you’re not “in the wild” hunting or foraging, it is safer to be in a
shelter; you need something to occupy your time while there)
o Group effort?
Rowing the boat, harvesting the plant, etc;
o Putting the baby down?
As we lost our fur in the course of evolution, nothing for baby to grasp on to. If
using hands, baby has to be put down (separated from mother); music as a tool
to calm the baby
o Transgenerational communication?
But only makes sense if accompanied by language, so why not language alone?
Possibly more fun?
o Social emotional cohesion
o Infant caretaking (broader notion than just putting baby down)
o Last two are considered most likely by researchers
- Why focus on social emotional cohesion and infant caretaking?
o Impulse to add music; universal occurrence of music
o Singing across culture; use in group activities/rituals
o Universal nature of singing to infants
Parents’ singing reflects their emotional/arousal goals for infant (e.g. same song
can be sung in peppy vs. lullaby-esque way), suggests a function for specific acts
Infants’ reaction to singing
o Can’t speculate about faces in the past
- Could music be a by-product of language abilities?
o One perspective on music…
o Pinker (psycholinguist):
Music = “auditory cheesecake…it just happens to tickle several important parts
of the brain in a highly pleasurable way, as cheesecake tickles the palate” Argues music is a spandrel
o Spandrel example, recall the term borrowed from Stephen Jay Gould
Characteristic can be the by-product of the evolution of another characteristic,
rather than itself reflecting direct adaptive selection
- So, one hypothesis: music might be by product of evolution of language abilities
o Some theorists have argued similar point
- Does this matter in judging music’s importance for psychological inquiry?
o “even if” #1
o Even if something is a by-product or something else, it becomes important
o Traits that were originally by-products of other evolutionary innovations sometimes
become extremely important
Feathers on birds was originally for warmth; then for display and then
eventually for flight
o Relevant concept: exaptation ( a shift in function of trait over course of evolution
o Current value of trait can therefore make it very important to consider and study,
regardless of trait’s origin!
- “Even if” #2
o Music is used worldwide; prevalence of music and found in every society (scope)
o The amount of time/money spend on music [societal importance]
D.Huron: 2001, USA: more $$ made exporting music than pharmaceuticals
o Neanderthal musical artifacts: would produce notes consistent with the kinds of melodic
patterns in modern music [tied to modern human origins]
o There underscore music’s importance to humans…therefore an important topic,
regardless of its potential to be a “by-product”
o All these list important functions for humans regardless if it was a by-product or not
- How do the formal characteristics of music and language compare?
o If music is a by-product of language (or even if it isn’t), it is relevant to compare them at
fine grained level
o Melodies and language has a structural template
o Presence of formal structure (ex. Inventory of units of particular types; “rules” for
o Potential for recursion; taking one part of the sentence and making another sentence
Embedding into other things
Ex. Beethoven’s 5 symphony
o Both reflect combination of wired in and learned knowledge
o Being an “expert” on the subject doesn’t entail a major difference in how perceptual
and cognitive systems compute stimuli (only difference is having terms for formal
concepts) Musical information are processed the same way
- Music and Language: DIFFERENCES
o Number of levels of structure?
o Number of different ways in which system can vary cross culturally
o Other differences:
o Written form does not allow some kind of appreciation
Meaning? Narrow forms and ambiguous
o Signed vs spoken; written version
Can express unambiguous referential meaning
- A closer look: what kind of meaning does music convey?
o Typical response: EMOTIONAL meaning
o Music: can induce emotions more directly (knowledge not required for how to compute
the perceptual signal)
o Language: indirect effect (must know the “code”, word meanings and rules of sentence
combination for specific language)
o But musical “meaning” is still somewhat ambiguous (different individuals may have
different emotional impressions of a musical experience; music can “take on” emotional
meanings from context
o Even if music does not have context or lyrics, it may still provide emotion or illicit
- Conclusions: is music a form of “communication”
o On close analysis, music fails to exhibit some of the important aspects of communication
o Many of the communicative aspects music does possess are only “partial” in nature
o Nonetheless, communicative features of music are important and are sufficient to
motivate certain hypotheses including:
Existence of similar kinds of broad developmental patterns for language and
The use of similar/shared mental mechanisms for processing language and
- How do we come to process music the way we do?
o Entirely experienc