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You are here: McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind > Publications > Innateness, learning, and the difficulty of determining whether music is an evolutionary adaptation: A commentary on Justus & Hutsler (2005) and McDermott & Hauser (2005)

Laurel J Trainor (2006)

Innateness, learning, and the difficulty of determining whether music is an evolutionary adaptation: A commentary on Justus & Hutsler (2005) and McDermott & Hauser (2005)

Music Perception, 24(1):105-110.

McDermott and Hauser (2005) and Justus and Hutsler (2005) argue that in order for music to be an evolutionary adaptation, and not an exaptation, music must be constrained by innate factors that are specific to music and that evolved because music conferred survival advantages. I argue that the dichotomy between adaptation and exaptation is not very clear for higher cognitive functions such as music and language, because genes set up general neural architectures and learning mechanisms, rather than specifying the details of what they will represent, and that such higher cognitive functions are therefore dependent on interactions between genes and experience. Furthermore, because higher cognitive functions depend on a common set of mechanisms such as sensory encoding strategies, working memory capacity, working memory processes, longterm memory encoding and retrieval, and attentional focusing, it is difficult to make arguments about innate specificity. Thus, the question of whether music is an evolutionary adaptation appears to depend on whether or not music conferred survival advantages, a question that is difficult to answer.

development, evolution, music, adaptation, pitch

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