In “Play that monkey music: Tunes inspired by tamarin calls seem to alter the primates’ emotions” (Science News, Tuesday, September 1, 2009), Jenny Lauren Lee writes:
[Charles Snowdon of the University of Wisconsin-Madison] says even the music that made the monkeys content is not pleasant to the human ear. The tamarin calls are higher pitched than human voices and use faster tempos. Likewise the authors report that the monkeys showed no response to samples of human music, except for an unexpected ‘calm’ reaction to a rousing piece by the heavy-metal band Metallica.
Even though it sounds different, the music tamarins and people find relaxing or stressful shares some common core elements. Long legato notes and certain jumps in pitch, such as the jump from do to mi in the do-re-mi of Western music, are calming sounds for both the monkeys and people. Clashing chords and short staccato bursts seem to have menacing associations.
Snowdon says these similarities suggest that tamarins and people may share evolutionary roots for music. But neuroscientist Joshua McDermott of New York University says further studies would be necessary to make that claim.
“Although I don’t see that these initial results tell us a whole lot about the origins of human music, I think there are extensions of [the study] that could,” McDermott says. He also says he would like to see the researchers use a more objective measure of the monkeys’ stress—for example, levels of the hormone cortisol.
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