Go to main content
BPS News

People can identify lullabies and dance songs from other cultures

01 March 2018

No matter where they live, people interpret certain kinds of vocalisations, even from animals, as conveying a particular emotion – as “angry”, for instance, or “soothing”.

It’s tempting to think that there might be similar cross-cultural universals in the ways that we use music – that a song used to calm an infant in Melanesia, say, should bear striking similarities to a song created for the same purpose by a culture in the Arctic Circle.

Well, it’s tempting if you’re a cognitive scientist – though not if you’re an ethnomusicologist (who studies music from different cultures), according to a survey of the opinions of academics reported in a new paper, published in Current Biology.

“Historically, the idea that there might be universals in music from many cultures has been met with considerable scepticism, especially among music scholars,” note the authors of the study, led by Samuel Mehr at Harvard University, which then goes on to explore whether they do exist.

Topics

Top of page