Musical beat processing and gene-culture coevolution

Aniruddh D. Patel,

Professor, Dept. of Psychology, Tufts University

A core feature of music cognition is the ability to perceive a beat in complex auditory rhythms and synchronize rhythmic movements to this beat in a predictive and tempo-flexible fashion. Recent theories suggest that engaging in this beat perception and synchronization (BPS) in social contexts had consequences for survival among human ancestors via effects on social bonding or on signaling group strength. In this talk I outline a hypothesis for the neurobiological evolution of BPS based on the theoretical framework of gene-culture coevolution. Building on ideas in a recent paper (Patel 2021, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B), I suggest that human ancestors had two key preadaptations which gave rise to sporadic BPS and which led to the cultural invention and spread of synchronous group audiomotor behavior. These preadaptations were an advanced form of vocal learning and a tendency for coordinated group rhythmic vocalizations. I further suggest that gene-culture coevolution, driven by the social consequences of group BPS, drove neural changes that enhanced the capacity and proclivity for BPS, enabling the kind of sustained BPS humans exhibit today. I outline predictions of this hypothesis for neuroscience, genetics, and cross-species research.