Across many cultures and geographies, music plays a large part in both courtship and social unity. What is it about music that melts hearts and brings people together to celebrate?
Ask anyone what his or her favorite songs are, and regardless of age, gender, cultural background or social status, you’ll get an answer. Indeed, music plays a large part in both courtship and activities that promote social unity across multiple cultures and geographies. But what exactly is it about music that melts women’s hearts and brings both women and men together to celebrate?
The Role of Music in Romance Courtship songs outside of the human realm have been observed only in bird and insect species, but it was found in 2006 that mice also produce songs when they’re looking for a mate. Evolutionary psychology researcher and author Geoffrey Miller (The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped Human Nature) believes that most of our skills, including skills of musicianship, are meant for survival, with the sole means to reproduce and bear offspring. To be a musician, one must have an inherent sense of creativity, motor skills, language skills and emotional sensitivity to be able to evoke emotional feelings through the creation of musical tones and rhythms. Miller regards survival as a pure act of sexual selection based on courtship tools: we either have the tools to pass on our genes or we don’t. Therefore, skills like musical ability are an attraction mechanism.
He prefers Billie Joe Armstrong to Billie Holiday. She’d rather laugh with Jack Black than rock with Jack White! Can these two wavelengths stay tuned to the same station, or will their different musical interests introduce too much static?
“Provided the differences in specific areas of interest are viewed in a broader context that includes personality and values, there should be no problem,” according to eHarmony Vice President of Research and Development J. Galen Buckwalter, Ph.D.
“Sharing a similar approach to processing new information will likely prove much more important to long-term satisfaction than whether the specific foci of interests are similar,” he explained.
So even if your Beatles-loving girlfriend doesn’t like the new Bjork, so long as you both share the same general interest in music and the desire to learn and share with an open mind, both your relationship and CD collections can keep getting bigger and better!
Music as an attraction tool isn’t really a new idea in behavioral research. Charles Darwin, the renowned father of evolutionary genetics, wrote nearly a century ago in his book Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex that females choose their mates based on many skills and behavioral traits, including courtship behaviors of musical ability and inclusion of wooing songs. In terms of survival, to Darwin it is equally important for women to find a suitable mate, and one who met the criteria of “suitable” typically are physically apt as well as socially adept.
Having musical ability that could bring people together to socialize and celebrate was seen by Darwin as a social tool that spoke to being socially adept. Researcher Steven Pinker suggests that language has always been used in the courtship process and that music is no different. It is just another language and is used to communicate interest during courtship, equal to verbal and nonverbal communication. If music is just another language, it serves a very special purpose.
Music helps us put words and sounds to our own emotions and allows us to understand how another is thinking or feeling. It bridges the subjective gap that we’re all naturally bound to. And in that collective social dynamic, Liverpool University behavioral researcher Dr. Robin Dunbar believes that music serves a larger social purpose beyond courtship. Dr. Dunbar’s research found that endorphins in the brain elevate when people sing collectively in groups, like church, where the intent of courtship is minimized.
Rhythm may have something to do with this. Along with melody and lyrics, rhythm is found in more than just the drum or baseline; there is also rhythm in how a song’s lyrics are strung together in syncopation with the other elements of the piece. Certain types of repetitions are pleasing to the brain, and seem to promote social dynamics. Dancing collectively in a group, for instance, is one way that we synch with each other.
And, of course, outside of courtship, there are rewards reaped by an individual listener of music—music is enjoyable! Professional musician Daniel Levitin in his book This Is Your Brain on Music reported that he used brain imaging to observe what happens in the minds of those listening to music, and found that excited nerves began first firing in the auditory system and then cascaded into the pleasure, reward and expectation centers of the brain. He also found that music can elevate dopamine levels in the brain, similar to the way narcotics and some antidepressants work. Whether a courtship ritual, social tool or personal enjoyment activity, music plays many roles in our lives. The next time you’re moved by a song or performer, or are performing a song for another, guess which motivations are work for you. Are you wooing, celebrating with friends, enjoying by yourself, or is it something else entirely?
What do you think? How does music work in your life? Share your thoughts below! Sources: