Provisional abstracts – please do not cite.
Bispham, J.C. (in preparation)
Pitch in Music: What is it? Who has it? And Why?
Within a framework of evolutionary theory this article offers a broad comparative perspective on the human
ability to produce and perceive pitch in music. An emphasis is placed on identifying psychological and
physiological capabilities that would appear to be unique in our species and to the context of music. In contrast
to previous comparative perspectives on pitch in music that have focused predominantly on observable
behaviours and perceptual capabilities, the approach here is focused on the psychology of engaging
appropriately with music and on the “root-level” abilities that allow us to interact socially with others within a
mutual context of “music”. In particular the non-trivial skills involved in producing, correcting, and engaging
appropriately with a sustained fundamental frequency are explored. Finally – and in reference to similar
perspectives by the author on “musical pulse” and “musical motivation” - hypotheses as to why these abilities
may have been selected for in the course of human evolution are discussed.
The Human Motivation for Music.
This article explores the largely neglected question of what motivates us to make music. Within a framework of
evolutionary theory a broad comparative perspective on “musical motivation” is presented with a particular
emphasis on the predominantly social and interactive nature of musical engagement worldwide. “Musical
motivation” is considered within existing psychological research into emotion regulation; goal-directed
behaviour; intersubjectivity, joint action, and sustained attention. In accordance with previous approaches by the
author on “musical pulse” and “musical pitch”, areas where the motivation for music appears psychologically
and/or functionally distinct from other human and animal communicative behaviours are highlighted. The
author argues that “music” delineates itself from other communicative behaviours in that it is intrinsically
motivated towards achieving a group convergence of context-appropriate affective states. The relevance of this
perspective to debates on the evolutionary and modern-day functionalities of music is discussed.
Music’s “Design Features” – Why did what evolve?
This paper presents a new perspective on the role of music in human evolution. The author argues that putative
evolutionary rationales and debates on music and evolution need to be grounded in a broad comparative
understanding of music’s “design features” – components of the human capacity for music that generically
distinguish it from other forms of animal and human communication. Reviewing previous comparative research,
music’s putative “design features” - musical pulse, musical pitch, and musical motivation – are described as
being exclusively operational in generating a particular type of coordinative framework for social interaction.
This framework – perhaps most clearly evident at ritualistic ceremonies – is argued to enable an efficient
convergence of appropriate emotional, motivational and attentional states within groups. The evolutionary
functionality of music is discussed in terms of links between synchronicity and cooperation; an individual’s
ability to function within a group; and in terms of the biological costs of emotion regulation and social
Cross, I., Bispham, J., Himberg, T, Swaine, J.
Evolution and Musical Rhythm.
This paper explores the evolution of the human ability to perceive and behave rhythmically, particularly in
interactive contexts. While this ability is a fundamental component of human musicality it also appears evident
in other communicative behaviors and must be considered in the broad context of music as a communicative
medium. Functions of human musicality are briefly described and the roles of phase and period correction in
human temporal sensitivities and capacities are outlined. The range of temporal behaviors manifested by non-
human species is then discussed and compared with those of humans; a qualitative distinction and a scarcity of
evidence for period correction in the group temporal and/or synchronised behaviours of non-human species
suggests that the mechanisms involved in the human capacity to entrain are likely to have evolved over the
course of recent human evolution, although research on the rhythmic capacities of non--human species remains
sparse. A summary of recent experimental research on human temporal interaction indicates that the human
capacity to entrain is most acute in contexts that afford mutual temporal adaptation. It is concluded that human
capacities for rhythm and entrainment are likely to have emerged initially with the appearance of the Homo
group proper, around two million years ago, as an exaptive consequence of bipedalism in an increasingly
complexly social lineage.