Saturday, March 13, 2010

Music and Sexual Selection

Music is something that has been around for hundreds of thousands of years if not longer, but why? What are the benefits of music, and why have we evolved with such great musical ability? After reading an article entitled "Evolution of human music through sexual selection" by Geoffrey Miller Ph.D. I felt like my questions concerning this topic were answered and thoroughly expounded upon.

Darwin was discussed briefly throughout the essay and is a good basis to start from concerning this topic. Darwin was one of the first to say that music concerning humans is definitely connected to sexual selection. While others were unsure of its purpose. Music is most simply comparable to the songs and mating calls of other species, the best example being birds. Music must be a part of sexual selection, but it was definitely not selected for by the evolutionary force of natural selection. The ability to produce music doesn't seem like a very evolutionary helpful quality. Music is loud and noisy so it can easily attract predators. It also incites competition between different musicians as to who is the better of the two. Music is usually accompanied by dancing which can be exhausting which can lead the person to be more vulnerable to predators. So just like the peacock's tail this ability evolved and flourished because of sexual selection. It seems like most of the more detrimental qualities toward our fitness come from sexual selection and yet this type of selection is still extremely important.

So since it appear that music and dance have no good qualities when it comes to survival, what are the qualities that make it so relevant for sexual selection. Just like the peacock feathers showed hints of a more robust and healthy male, music may do the same thing. People who are more musically inclined may be seen as being more creative and intelligent. Skills such as learning a musical instrument take time and practice. This time and effort are seen as abilities that can be applied to raising children. It's better to have a mate with lots of energy than a lazy one. It takes a lot of energy and strength to play for long periods of time, and to play with precision. So these individuals may be seen as stronger. Dancing which goes hand in hand with music takes a lot of strength and energy as well, and for a female looking for a mate they can weed out the strong and the weak. For our ancestors a lot of energy was needed for hunting and finding food, so this energy could be a sign that they are proficient hunters.

In today's music the most common lyrics are about love. Music is seen as an extension of language. Because language is seen as a species typical trait of humans, so is music, especially since music can be found in all cultures of humans around the world. More specifically music with lyrics, since the sound that birds make is defined as music as well. Since the best reason we can find for the existence of music is because of sexual selection, then it can be inferred that music is used to attract a mate. Even today the basic reason for music is still grounded in the idea of sexual selection. People gather at concerts in groups. Some people may argue that concerts are group gatherings to bring groups of people closer together and make their group bond stronger. And although this may hold true to a certain extent, many people definitely go to concerts because there is a good chance that there will be someone there that they like and that shares something in common with them. It is also a funny coincidence that so many young boys around the age of puberty suddenly want to play an instrument . This might have something to do with the fact that girls their age are talking about their favorite artist and how cute he is and so on. Dr. Miller also mentioned that a famous musician Miles Davis once said that musicians"avoid having sex before important concerts, because they need the sexual “edge” to play well (p.7)" It is interesting that there are more male musicians in the history of music than females. This may also be because of sexual selection since the male uses music to impress the female.

While reading this essay I learned a new word. That word is neophilia which is the preference for novel things in courtship displays. This can be seen in music throughout the world. There are so many different genres, and artists are constantly looking for that new sound to interest listeners, and they have been successful in keeping our attention and entertaining us every day. So, after reading about sexual selection I can't help but think as I listen to the Beatles about all of the screaming fans and how sexual selection was acting on them just like it did on our ancestors.


  1. Love it! That is so intriguing (though a little depressing because I can neither play an instrument nor dance!), and it makes a lot of sense. I especially enjoyed the Miles Davis insight and your inclusion of the new vocab word.
    Keep 'em coming!
    -Dr. Walker

  2. "there are more male musicians in the history of music than females"

    That's true about most things, since historically women weren't allowed to do very much of significance with their lives.

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