Singing has been a cornerstone of almost every human society for the last million years or so. It is a practice so well established that many believe singing is an instinctive, and not learned, behavior.
But if that’s true, what’s up with people who just can’t sing? I’m not talking about people with scratchy voices or old-lady vibratos — I’m talking about those people who couldn’t carry a tune if it were in a box with handles. The people who derail the Happy Birthday song with their caterwauling.
According to the most recent Journal of Neuroscience (you should see the latest amygdala centerfold), people who really, really can’t sing were born with a particular defect in their brains — between the right temporal and frontal lobes:
This region, a neural “highway” called the arcuate fasciculus, is known to be involved in linking music and language perception with vocal production.The arcuate fasciculus was smaller in volume and had a lower fiber count in the tone-deaf individuals. More notably, the superior branch of the arcuate fasciculus in the right hemisphere could not be detected in the tone-deaf individuals. The researchers speculated that this could mean the branch is missing entirely, or is so abnormally deformed that it appears invisible to even the most advanced neuroimaging methods.
So basically they’re saying that Cindy Crawford was brain damaged in that perfume commercial she made in the 1990s.
I’m skeptical. I mean, just because people are bad singers doesn’t necessarily mean they are mental defectives, right? Take this group of Dutch Idol cast-offs that were asked to sing in front of a soccer stadium full of people. Would you suspect that any of these people were born with parts of their brains missing?
OK, yeah. Now that I’ve seen it again — totally.
Brain Defect Found in Tone-Deaf People [Tech Review]
Filed under music, science
Cognitive Daily, the signature blog of cognitive psychology (we suppose) posits an interesting question in response to a recently published research article: Does making a fist mean different things for men and women?
The article claims that women are less likely than men to make a fist in celebration of athletic achievement. While there are plenty of examples of female athletes doing just that (see gratuitous Maria Sharapova pic below), it seems to be more a guy thing.
Ed Harkin: “Jesus, she is terrifying!”
Why is this the case? It seems that men and women respond to the act of making a fist entirely differently:
In a third experiment, the respondents rated a story character for hostility and kindness, again while either holding their free hand in a fist or not. Here are the results for kindness:
Once again, women and men showed the opposite effect when making fists. Men thought the character was more kind when they were making a fist, while women thought he was less kind. Results were significant for both men and women.
The article’s author Dave Munger, says the results indicate that the act of making a fist can influence your thoughts, and that men typically make fist to express feelings of power and control while women do the same to express powerlessness (though obviously there are exceptions).
This, apparently, is why Pax Arcana punched a light post after striking out in a men’s league baseball game last summer. Or maybe that was just the ‘roids talkin’.
The unintended consequences of making a fist — and how they depend on gender [Cognitive Daily]
The 26-year-old author of the new book Proust was a Neuroscientist says that throughout history artists have predicted or paralleled advances in science.
Virginia Woolf isn’t going to help you finish your lab experiment. What she will do is help you ask your questions better. Proust focused on problems that neuroscience itself didn’t grapple with until relatively recently — questions of memory that couldn’t be crammed into Pavlovian reinforcement: Why are memories so unreliable? Why do they change so often? Why do we remember only certain aspects of the past?
We predict that this book will be required reading at many colleges, and starting next year Hampshire College will offer a course called “Jerry Garcia and microbiology: An introduction.”
Q&A: Rhodes Scholar Jonah Lehrer on Art for Science’s Sake [Wired]