Feel-Good Music Feels Good Around the World

From Science:

Music Feeling a little blue? Why not kick back and put Bobby McFerrin's “Don't Worry, Be Happy” or Queen's “We Are the Champions” on the stereo? Chances are you'll feel more cheerful in no time. But what about people who have never been exposed to Western music? A new study concludes that even they can tell the difference between a happy and a sad tune. Researchers have proposed numerous hypotheses about why humans make music, ranging from emotional communication to group solidarity. Other scientists, such as Harvard University linguist Steven Pinker, have countered that music is just “auditory cheesecake” with no real evolutionary significance.

If music is the result of Darwinian selection, it's likely that all members of the human species, regardless of their culture, will respond to it in similar ways. Yet investigating such cross-cultural musical universals has been very difficult. With increasing globalization, it is nearly impossible to find a Westerner who has not heard Eastern music or an African who hasn't heard the Beatles. “Someone may say that they have never heard Hindustani music or Japanese Shinto music,” says Laura-Lee Balkwill, a music cognition researcher at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada, “but chances are that they have been exposed to it, on the radio, as background music in a movie or on a Web site, even as someone else's ringtone.” And that makes it difficult for researchers to distinguish between musical sensibilities that might be hard-wired and those that are culturally determined.

More here.