Is their an evolutionary function to a grand piano? Our fondness for music may have evolved, or it might simply represent a happy coincidence. Perhaps it just provides a nice opportunity for us to bond, relax, and get schwifty.
However, music seems to be present just about everywhere. As such, a lot people favour the evolutionary explanation. How else to explain why it is so widespread?
One such proponent of evolutionary explanations for music is Alessandro Miani, from Denmark. And he’s conducted a rather – for want of a better word – interesting experiment to study if this is the case.
Self-stimulation and music
His hypothesis is that music and mating have some very similar neurological foundations. In particular, both involve a fair bit of the neuropeptide vasopressin. Particularly in men, who experience a spike of vasopressin when they’re aroused and when they’re dancing.
Thus music might have evolved to encourage mating.
If both activities have truly been intertwined by evolution then one would expect music to lead arousal by spiking vasopressin. But of course, the converse is also true. Arousal might improve musical predilection and ability by creating a similar spike. Which led to the following experiment.
One male subject (age 32, right-handed) was instructed to tap with his dominant finger over a metronome for 11 different tempi (120 ± 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 bpm). A number of 36 sessions were recorded in three conditions: pre- (N = 11), post-orgasm (N = 11), and control condition (N = 14). Pre- and post-orgasm conditions required self-manual penile stimulation until the sexual arousal was reached. Once aroused, the subject performed the pre-orgasm task. Then, finished the task, he continued the stimulation until ejaculation occurred. After 3 min of rest, he could perform the post-orgasm task.
For those of you who don’t speak science, this essentially describes a man trying to tap in time with a metronome during masturbation, and again three minutes after it was finished. This was compared to the tapping task performed when no masturbation was involved. The hypothesis being that the more aroused the subject was, the better they should be able to match the metronome.
And this hypothesis was vindicated (as much as anything can be vindicated by one man masturbating). The tapping was more in time during the aroused states than the control. Music totes evolved everyone!
Now, before anyone gets too carried away with this idea (or ridiculing it) it is worth noting that this study is published in Medical Hypotheses.
MH is for all intents and purposes a joke journal. A journal that has previously also published research that involved a man collecting his belly button fluff for 3 years. For science! Unfortunately it seems that some people can take their medical hypotheses a bit too far. As is the case of the rather peculiar study advocating for an evolutionary explanation for “sexual breast love” (to fool men into helping them not get cancer, if you’re curious).
Luckily this doesn’t seem to be the case here. The delightfully dry explanations of this “experiment” says to me that this isn’t a particularly serious study. Alessandro doesn’t think this proves music evolved. But he does seem to be making a serious point that it could have. The various neurological phenomena he based his hypothesis on are very real. In fact, he’s already done some preliminary work showing a potential parallel between music and mating that could hint at an evolutionary history.
Of course, this work hasn’t vindicated such a history just yet. But it does raises some interesting implications for whether or not music evolved and are definitely worthy of further study.
Just perhaps a study that isn’t so intimate.
Miani, A., 2016. Sexual arousal and rhythmic synchronization: a possible effect of vasopressin Medical Hypotheses.