No Music for Monkeys

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No music for monkeys, as reported in news@nature, 10 December 2004. Musical appreciation appears to be a uniquely human characteristic. The pleasing sound of music comes from consonant tones – combinations of sound waves that overlap to create smooth waveforms. Dissonant sounds, where the wavelengths come in and out of phase produce unmusical jarring noises. Monkeys and songbirds can tell the difference between consonant and dissonant sounds, but no-one knew whether they actually prefer to listen to the consonant music. John McDermott and Mac Hauser of Cambridge, Massachusetts tested cotton topped tamarinds, a type of monkey, for sound preference giving them a choice of sitting in spaces where they could hear either dissonant or consonant sounds. The monkeys showed no preference for either. Humans tested by McDermott and Hauser showed clear preference for the consonant sounds. McDermott suggests that our enjoyment of musical sounds comes from “specifically human properties of our brains”, not just the structure of our ears. “I would place my bets on the fact that it’s uniquely human” he commented.

Editorial Comment: Both music and speech seem to be uniquely human characteristics. Other studies have shown that human brains are hard-wired for recognising music in the same way they are wired for speech. Evolutionary scientists will never understand why, as long as they regard humans as just animals. Humans enjoy music because we are made in the image of God, Who gave us the ability to make and enjoy music, and delights when we praise Him with music. (Ref. music, monkeys, humans)

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