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Got Holiday Music on the Brain? You Might be Hard-Wired for it. Researchers Examine How Music Has Helped us Evolve

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Dec 13, 2012) - A quick chord progression from "Winter Wonderland" can take even the sternest scrooge on a trip down memory lane. At this time of year, holiday music is piped into department stores, loaded onto iPods and printed into carol books, all with the intention making people feel festive.

Isabelle Peretz, Canada Research Chair in neurocognition of music and co-director of BRAMS, a Montréal-based research lab that studies how the brain reacts to music and sound, says that some of these feelings may actually be instinctual.

"Archaeological finds show a continuous record of musical activities in all human settlements, dating back at least 35,000 years," says Peretz. "Thus, music seems to correspond to an evolutionary adaptation."

She says that the role music plays in human evolution is likely linked with the role it plays in social cohesion. When humans share a similar emotional response to a performance of "Silver Bells," for example, we all share a common frame of reference. It helps us relate to each other and develop social bonds.

Talented musicians may also gain evolutionary benefit by being able to attract partners. "Individuals taking the lead in gatherings by virtue of their musical and dance prowess can achieve leadership status in the group, a factor that contributes to reproductive success," says Peretz.

The link between music, biology and emotion is on display this month and running until March at the Montréal Science Centre. Peretz and a team of experts in music and cognition worked with the Centre to create Musik: From Sound to Emotion, an interactive exhibit that allows visitors to explore the mathematical, biological and social foundations of music.

Peretz is turning the exhibit into a living laboratory. As visitors compose tracks they feel have certain emotional cues, researchers can access real-time data about the features of the musical composition that trigger various emotions.

BRAMS, International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research, is a unique centre devoted to the study of music cognition with a focus on neuroscience. BRAMS is funded through the Canada Foundation for Innovation and is jointly affiliated with Université de Montréal and McGill University.

Created by the Government of Canada in 1997, the Canada Foundation for Innovation builds the capacity of universities, colleges and research hospitals to undertake world-class research.