This study explored if humans and monkeys process music, specifically pitch processing, the same way. Why would they want to research this? The reason is music, as we know it, is a unique creation by humans. Does that mean that the human brain has different functions and structures that are specific to music? And if so, could studying our closest evolutionary cousins help us identify where the differences might be? These are some of the reasons why comparative studies – studies that compare human brain processing with primate brain processing – are so interesting and enlightening.
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This study suggested that “humans may have developed brain areas that are sensitive to pitch and tone in order to process the sounds associated with speech and music”. This finding supports previous findings that music and language processing share an overlapping neural network. It also raises a question that researchers and theorists are grappling with right now – which came first, music or language? Did our brain’s evolve language on the shoulders of the already developed music processing network or did language and music processing develop simultaneously based on a co-dependent need for music and language?
The answer will no doubt be far more complex and elegant than we can even imagine at this point but it is an incredibly interesting and challenging chicken and egg question.