MPI Colloquium Prof. Aniruddh D. Patel

19 March 2024 15:45 - 17:00
Max Planck Institute
Auditorium 163
Portrait photo Aniruddh D. Patel
Prof. Aniruddh D. Patel is a Professor of Psychology at Tufts University, Boston, US.


The evolution of human musicality: a synthetic research program

Music, like language, is universal and ancient in human societies. There is broad consensus that humans have evolved neural specializations for speech and language processing. Have humans evolved any neural specializations for music processing? Despite an explosion of research on music and the brain in the past two decades and over 150 years of theorizing about the evolution of musicality, we are nowhere near consensus on the answer to this question. I believe we are at a turning point, however, and can reach consensus on the answer to this question in the next few decades by synthesizing research from cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, cross-species studies, cross-cultural work, and genetics. I will illustrate this synthetic approach with research on beat-based rhythmic processing, a core component of musicality. I will also argue that research on the evolution of musicality has broader benefits for the study of the mind: it can deepen our understanding of music-language relations in the brain, yield new insights into animal cognition, and provide fertile ground for the study of cognitive gene-culture coevolution. 

This presentation builds on Patel, A.D. (2023). Musicality and gene-culture coevolution: Ten concepts to guide productive exploration. In: E.H. Margulis, D. Loughridge, & P. Loui (Eds.) The Science Music Borderlands: Reckoning with the Past, Imagining the Future. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (pp. 15-37).  Freely available at:

Short Biography

Aniruddh (Ani) Patel is a Professor of Psychology at Tufts University. He received his BA from the University of Virginia (1987) and his AM (1990) and PhD (1996) from Harvard University. He then joined The Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, CA, where he was a Senior Fellow from 2005-2012. Dr. Patel's work focuses on music cognition: the mental processes involved in making, perceiving, and responding to music. Areas of emphasis include music-language relations (the topic of his 2008 book, Music, Language, and the Brain, Oxford Univ. Press) rhythmic processing, and cross-species studies of music cognition. A wide variety of methods are used in this research, including brain imaging, behavioral experiments, theoretical analyses, acoustic research, and comparative studies with nonhuman animals. Dr. Patel has served as President for the Society for Music Perception and Cognition (2009-2011) and is a Fellow in the Azrieli Brain, Mind, and Consciousness program in the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR).

Web site: Aniruddh Patel | Department of Psychology (

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