Human brains have a particular ‘bias’ for music and speech, a new study shows.
Humans and other primates are similar in so many ways, so what sets humans apart, exactly? Scientists have been trying to answer this question for decades with differing degrees of success.
Previous studies have shown that the brains of humans and nonhuman primates process visual information in much the same way. Yet, researchers have remained unsure as to whether there are any differences in how we and our primate “cousins” process different types of sounds.
This is precisely the area that scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, and the Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research, of the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, recently decided to investigate.
In their study paper, which appears in Nature Neuroscience, the researchers explain that the “[v]isual cortex is similar between humans and macaque monkeys, but less is known about audition” differences in the two species.
The research team thus set out to compare how the brains of humans and those of rhesus macaques reacted to auditory stimuli, particularly ones that we usually associate with humans, namely harmonic tones that characterize music and speech.
“Speech and music contain harmonic frequency components, which are perceived to have ‘pitch,'” the authors explain in their paper. “Humans have cortical regions with a strong response preference for harmonic tones versus noise,” But is the same true for nonhuman primates?
“We found that a certain region of our brains has a stronger preference for sounds with pitch than macaque monkey brains,” says senior author Bevil Conway, Ph.D., commenting on the current study’s findings.