31 Days – Music and Bonding

But wait! There’s more!!

Last time, we talked about The Beat. Now let’s mine more from today’s NPR story on cockatoos and elephants that can make music. The story ended with this remarkable observation and hypothesis.

“We now know that when people play music together, oxytocin is released,” says [Dan] Levitin, [professor of psychology and neuroscience at McGill University]. “This is the bonding hormone that’s released when people have an orgasm together. And so you have to ask yourself, that can’t be a coincidence, there had to be some evolutionary pressure there. Language doesn’t produce it, music does. So the idea is that there’s no primate society that I know of that has more than 18 males in the living group because the rivalries cause the groups to break apart and there’s too much fighting. But human societies of thousands of members have existed for thousands of years. And the argument is that music, among other things, helped to defuse interpersonal tensions and smooth over rivalries.”

Did you catch that? “Language doesn’t produce [oxytocin], music does.” Isn’t that amazing? And could it be true that one reason humans are able to live in groups large enough to make civilization possible is because we make music together?

I was reminded of the time I first set foot in the last church I attended regularly. The ceiling was relatively low (for a church) and when everyone started to sing the room filled completely with the music. I immediately felt, “I belong here.”

Congregation Singing

A Congregation Singing

And if you read my post, Why I Became a Christian, you might recall that music was important in that group-joining experience as well.

There are examples in other areas.

What do we do when an Olympic champion is crowned? Do we display the national bird of his country? Do we have him to stand on the podium in his traditional, national costume? No, we play his national anthem. His compatriots in the audience are often moved to sing along.

I remember that when I was a child I sang certain songs with my friends. I had no idea what they meant, but it was a bonding experience. (The song Jeremiah was a Bullfrog comes to mind.)

So I think professor Levitin is onto something. Making music together fosters social cohesion.

How wondrous it is that merely bouncing air molecules off each others’ eardrums brings … harmony!

One response to “31 Days – Music and Bonding

  1. I went to a Chevelle concert with my sister once. Sat as far away as I could and watched, almost in shock, as people literally beat the hell out of one another. Music seems to play a huge role in human interaction and behavior. If I recall correctly, the ancient (middle eastern) music scale only had five notes. Research has found that their frequency is based on the number nine. Example, 369 broken apart is 3, 6, 9. 3 + 6 + 9 = 18. 18 broken apart is 1, 8. 1 + 8 = 9. I don’t remember all the details anymore, though. But the research on the subject also had to do with affect of music on behavior.

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