Music, especially infant-directed songs, evolved as a manner for parents to signal their kids that their needs are being met while still allowing them to perform other tasks, such as looking for food or taking care of the other children. The new theory paper suggests that this is how music was first created.
The research, published in the open-access journal Evolution and Human Behavior, notes that singing has appeared as an evolutionary exercise. The study was conducted by Graduate School of Education doctoral student Samuel Mehr and Assistant Professor of Psychology Max Krasnow.
Music, Created By Parents To Satisfy Children's Needs
When it comes to evolutionary science, music is a disputed topic. From a scientific point of view, music was created by many cultures worldwide, in a distinct range of contexts, none of which managed to provide enough data to explain why humans are the only ones to use it.
According to Krasnow, despite the scientific interest in the roots of music, there is no known theory to have answered the questions of its creation.
"What we are trying to do with this paper is develop a theory of music that is grounded in evolutionary biology, human life history and the basic features of mammalian ecology," he noted.
The notion that parents and newborns are engaged in an "arms race" over attention is at the core of this new scientific theory. Given the fact that the ancestral world during which music was first invented was populated by predators and a high number of risks, music was created to keep infants attentive to their parents.
As children didn't have notions that would allow them to survive on their own or even unattended, such as which foods are poisonous, their parents had to come up with a way to keep them busy.
Genetic research has proposed a theory of parent-offspring conflict, as part of which the distribution of resources was often disputed. The current study applies this genetic theory on attention as a resource. While attention is limited, parents had to find a way to satisfy their kids' needs, while being able to complete their daily tasks, such as cooking.
"After examining the ancestral ecology of parent-infant relations, we propose that infant-directed song arose in an evolutionary arms race between parents and infants, stemming from the dynamics of parent-offspring conflict," noted the research.
Starting from this premise, the study proposes that other, more elaborate forms of music have their roots in this conflict for attention between children and their parents.
"We describe testable predictions that follow from this theory, consider some existing evidence for them, and entertain the possibility that infant-directed song could form the basis for the development of other, more complex forms of music," also stated the research.
Music Is Beneficial For Kids
Additionally, kids can benefit from music in multiple ways. For instance, a recent study has shown that music therapy can improve self-esteem and ease depression among children. Aside from evolutionary research proposing reasons for creating music discussed above, this study shows current psychological implications of exposure to music among children.
"The findings are dramatic and underscore the need for music therapy to be made available as a mainstream treatment option," noted the author of this study.