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Prenatal “experience” and the phylogenesis and ontogenesis of music

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Prenatal “experience” and
the phylogenesis and
ontogenesis of music
Richard Parncutt, University of Graz
Music & Science, Baden bei Wien, Austria, 1-4 October 2006
Music, the body and biology
Movement and dance (Trevarthen)
Identity (Janata)
Melody and speech (Koelsch)
Rhythm and tempo (several…)
Emotion (several…)
Why is music like this?
Origins and definitions of music
• A definition is necessary
– to analytically explain origins
• Every definition and theory of origins
– assumes universals
– is ethnocentric
Music: A definition
(a) an acoustic signal that
(b) evokes recognizable patterns of sound,
(c) implies physical movement,
(d) is perceived as segmented and structured,
(e) is meaningful,
(f) is intentional wrt (b), (c), (d) or (e), and
(g) is accepted by a cultural group
Further musical universals
• Exists in all known cultures
• Has dedicated brain structures (Peretz)
• Functions
– social (communication, group, identity)
– emotional (share/influence states)
– religious (gods, spirits)
Widespread musical structures
п‚· Themes and forms
п‚· call-answer (antecedent-consequent)
п‚· development (repetition, variation)
п‚· Melody
п‚· pitch and interval distributions (M2, P8, P5 etc.)
п‚· rise-fall phrases
п‚· Rhythm
п‚· pulse perception/production, entrainment
п‚· tempo distributions
Origins of music
Some theories
• Survival
– mating (Darwin)
– training (Roederer)
– group survival
• long-distance communication (Stumpf, 1911)
• rhythmic work (Bücher, 1896; Hornbostel, 1912)
• Extended vocalisation
– from speech (Spencer, 1890)
– "tumbling strains" (Sachs, 1962)
– primate vocalisations (Wallin,
• Imitation
– Child’s drive to play
– Movement, gesture, mimesis
(Tolbert, 2001)
– Environmental sounds
(Cazden, 1951)
Origins of music
Theoretical problems
• Evolutionary adaptation vs “parasite”
• Strong emotionality; spirituality, identity
• Biological basis of structures
– rhythm and walking/heartbeat
– melody and speech
• Roles of men vs women
• What actually happened and why?
Origins of music
a new scenario
1. Fetus
a) environmental sounds and movements
b) perception
c) classical conditioning
d) communication with mother
2. Infant
a) transnatal memory
b) protomusical sensitivity
c) communication with mother / adults
d) operant conditioning
3. Child and adult
reflective consciousness and culture
1. Fetus
a) Environmental sounds, movements
Internal to mother’s body
vocalizations and breathing
body movements and footfalls
All these sounds
are repetitive
depend on mother’s (emotional) state
are muffled (low-pass to about 2 kHz)
External sounds
Only loud, mid-frequency sound
1. Fetus
b) Perception
• Functioning cochlea and vestibule
– from 20-24 weeks
– both sound and motion
• Myelinization of auditory pathways
– from 24-28 weeks
– improved neural transmission
1. Fetus
c) Classical conditioning
• Pavlov’s dog
• Parncutt’s fetus
Both are examples of
• perceptual learning (Gibson)
• without reflective awareness
Classical conditioning
Pavlov�s dog
neutral stimulus
unconditioned stimulus
unconditioned response
many repetitions
conditioned stimulus
conditioned response
Classical conditioning of fetus
(Spelt 1948; Hepper 1996)
neutral stimulus
vibration or tone
unconditioned stimulus
loud noise
unconditioned response
fetal movement
15-20 repetitions
conditioned stimulus
vibration or tone
conditioned response
fetal movement
Classical conditioning
Parncutt�s fetus
neutral stimulus
auditory, tactile, kinesthetic
unconditioned stimulus
unconditioned response
many repetitions
conditioned stimulus
conditioned response
auditory, tactile, kinesthetic
Biochemical correlates of emotion
• fear
– corticosteroids, e.g. glucocorticoids, e.g. cortisol
• anger
– high cortisol, adrenaline
– low dopamine, serotonin
• bonding
– oxytocin
Placental filtering
• passes
– nutrients and oxygen toward fetus
– wastes and carbon dioxide away
– fetal steroids since highly lipophilic
• partly filters out
– bacteria, viruses, toxins, drugs
– chemicals like alcohol, nicotine, cocaine
Brain-blood barrier
• Protects brain from infection
• Passes lipid-soluble molecules
– O2, CO2, ethanol, steroid hormones
• Steroid hormones include
– glucocorticoids incl. cortisol
– mineralocorticoids incl. aldosterone
– sex steroids
• androgens
• estrogens
• progestagens
1. Fetus
d) “Communication” with mother
• Emotion, physical state
• Physiological and behavioural
• Survival value: bonding after birth
2. Infant
a) Transnatal “memory”
Babies “recognize” “melodies” heard
repeatedly before birth (e.g. Hepper)
This is not “memory” but
• ontogenetic adaptation to prenatal environment
• phylogenetic exaptation (Buss)
– parasitic on prenatal audition/bonding
Duration of “memory”:
• Hepper: a few weeks
• Lamont: one year?
2. Infant
b) Protomusical sensitivity
Infants are:
sensitive to musical structure
sensitive to musical emotion
more interested in singing than speech
Trehub & Nakata (2001)
Prenatal perceptual learning model:
heart/feet пѓ rhythm, voice пѓ melody
sound patterns depend on emotion
muffling emphasizes pitch contour
2. Infant
c) Communication with adults
Infant-adult vocal play (motherese)
is universal
promotes speech acquisition
involves meaningful gestures (Papousek)
may underlie (musical) ritual (Dissanayake)
projects prenatal learning into childhood
2. Infant
d) Operant conditioning
• Skinner’s rat
• Parncutt’s baby
Both are examples of
• perceptual learning (Gibson)
• without reflective awareness
Operant conditioning
Skinner: positive reinforcement
Why does the rat push the lever?
push lever
receive sugar
пѓ increase in frequency of behavior
Operant conditioning:
Why do mother and baby exchange physical/vocal gestures?
accidentally create prenatally
“familiar” sound patterns
пѓ increase in frequency of behavior
3. Child and adult
Reflective consciousness
„Cultural explosion“ (Mithen) 100-50 kya
• “conscious” use of symbols
– painting, body decoration
• social organisation
– migration, ritual (e.g. burial)
пѓ Music as deliberate creation of emotional
sound patterns
The origins of music
3 stages
A = adaptation, E = exaptation (parasite)
1. Fetus: Emotionality of pitch-time patterns
A: Prenatal bonding and preparation for language
E: Classical conditioning (sound-movement-emotion)
2. Infant: Motherese as protomusic
A: Postnatal bonding and preparation for language
E: Operant conditioning (sound-movement-emotion)
3. Children and adults: Music as we know it
A: Reflective language and consciousness
E: Music as deliberate emotional manipulation
• Music is exaptive
– a parasite on pre- and postnatal
• bonding
• preparation for language
• Music may also be adaptive
– trains individual cognitive and motor abilities
– promotes social coherence
If music has prenatal origins…
• Music and the body
– The body is music’s origin
• Music and biology
– Biology underlies musical structures
• Music, identity, spirituality
– Music is a cultural elaboration of cognitive
representation of mother as perceived by fetus
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