Science Questions

Is there an evolutionary reason for rhythm?

Tue, 21st Apr 2015

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Question

Chris Simpkins asked:

Why do we have a sense of rhythm? Is there an evolutionary advantage?

Answer

We put this question to Ginny Smith and Chris Smith...A man and a woman performing a modern dance.

Ginny - So, this is a really interesting thing because itís really difficult to study when the evolution of rhythm and dancing, and music and things like that happen because they donít leave behind fossils like tools do. But we think that itís quite an old thing to move together. There's a lot of evidence that if a group of people move together they become bonded. They interact better. They like each other more. So, the theory is that dancing and singing, and all of those sort of movement and music things have evolved to help bond tribes together.

Kat - I saw a really great study. It was about chanting. It was about how groups that chant together, whether itís football chants or religious chants or anything, that people start to move together. They start to breath together. Itís a sort of bonding thing.

Ginny - Itís the same reason why armies still practice marching up and down even though armies donít march anywhere anymore.

Chris - They do in Korea. You'd see that a lot in Korea.

Ginny - By getting them to march up and down, they all become sort of part of one bigger thing.

Chris - But if you think about it, timing is so critical for everything that the human body does. I mean, your heart has a beat. If I can't form rhythms of speech and breathing patterns and make things like my vocal chords open and close at the right rate, if I can't decode sounds at the right rate, then I can't actually interact with the world. So, timing is absolutely critical.

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