The evolution of the music faculty: a comparative perspective

Nat Neurosci. 2003 Jul;6(7):663-8. doi: 10.1038/nn1080.


We propose a theoretical framework for exploring the evolution of the music faculty from a comparative perspective. This framework addresses questions of phylogeny, adaptive function, innate biases and perceptual mechanisms. We argue that comparative studies can make two unique contributions to investigations of the origins of music. First, musical exposure can be controlled and manipulated to an extent not possible in humans. Second, any features of music perception found in nonhuman animals must not be part of an adaptation for music, and must rather be side effects of more general features of perception or cognition. We review studies that use animal research to target specific aspects of music perception (such as octave generalization), as well as studies that investigate more general and shared systems of the mind/brain that may be relevant to music (such as rhythm perception and emotional encoding). Finally, we suggest several directions for future work, following the lead of comparative studies on the language faculty.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • Electrophysiology / methods
  • Generalization, Psychological
  • Humans
  • Instinct
  • Language
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Music*