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The Music Instinct: Science and Song

By Published: July 9, 2009

I'll see Ehrenreich and Levitin's bid and raise them ten—there is also some interesting work being done at UCLA and Italy with "mirror neurons," also measured with fMRI and PET scanning. A decade ago, nerve centers were identified in macaque monkeys that are activated when a neighbor is rewarded in some manner as if they themselves were being rewarded, although they were not. These were named mirror neurons and further work has implicated that these are the organic basis of empathy-the ability to experience the emotions of another. This may be the reason why we get freaked out at horror films, or cry at chick flicks. It could also account for a group communicative effect while at play, such as listening to live music—those golden moments when we are all in sync.

Levitin very competently covers the research that is out there on the subject of music cognition in his documentary—but he doesn't go far enough. He postulates, as have many scientists, that music is necessary for group identity and social cohesion, but to go even farther, do we need it not only to bond socially, but to be healthy and happy?

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