The only primates capable of making music are humans. The evolutionary roots and purposes of music, however, are not apparent. One theory is that music evolved into a tool that fosters social bonding and group cohesion, ultimately increasing prosocial in-group behavior and cooperation. This is because in traditional cultures, music making and dancing are frequently essential components of significant group ceremonies such as initiation rites, weddings, or battle preparations.
Here, we show that, compared to a precisely matched control condition with the same level of social and linguistic engagement but no music, cooperative and helpful conduct among 4-year-old children is increased when they make music together.
We suggest that, among other useful mechanisms, music-making, such as group singing and dancing, encourages the participants to maintain an ongoing audiovisual representation of the group’s intention and shared goal of vocalizing and moving in time. This would effectively satiate the natural human desire to share feelings, experiences, and activities with others.
Cultural and social settings are thought to alter rhythm ability in addition to age-related changes in synchronization to musical rhythm (Kirschner and Tomasello, 2010;Kirschner and Ilari, 2014;Yu and Myowa, 2021).
For instance, Kirschner and Ilari (2014) examined whether children’s synchronization to musical rhythms in various social circumstances (such as when an experimenter was present, when the experimenter was hidden, or when the kid was alone) would affect afterwards prosocial behavior. The youngsters in the Brazilian sample had a longer history of musical involvement than the German children, which suggests that culture may have an impact on rhythm synchronization.
In a similar vein, numerous studies have shown that the presence of a social partner affects an infant’s and young child’s rhythmic behavior. For instance, older infants are more likely to adjust the tempo of their movements (Rocha and Mareschal, 2017) and young children are more likely to synchronize to the beat of music (Kirschner and Tomasello, 2010; Kirschner and Ilari, 2014) when there is another social partner present. Thus, cultural and socialization processes may have an impact on how rhythm develops (Kirschner and Ilari, 2014).