Quirks and Quarks

Our brains are tuned for music

A portion of the human brain responds exclusively to music, suggesting we're specifically adapted to music.

Brain activity reveals unique reaction to music in the auditory cortex

(Christine Daniloff/MIT)
For a long time, scientists have wondered why all human cultures create and enjoy music. After all, unlike basic necessities like food, shelter or sex, music is not essential to our survival.

In an effort to better understand this, Dr. Nancy Kanwisher, a Professor of Neuroscience at M.I.T. in Boston, looked at what happens in the brain while a person is listening to music. In an experiment, more than 150 sounds, including random noises as well as music from many genres, were played for a group of people.

Her analysis of data generated by fMRI scans showed one specific group of neurons in the auditory cortex that responded exclusively to music, regardless of style. This proved that music had not just piggybacked on parts of the brain designed for other functions, such as language.

Related Links

Paper in Neuron
- MIT release
New York Times article
Previous Quirks stories about music and the brain