Research Article

Universality and diversity in human song

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Science  22 Nov 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6468, eaax0868
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax0868

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Cross-cultural analysis of song

It is unclear whether there are universal patterns to music across cultures. Mehr et al. examined ethnographic data and observed music in every society sampled (see the Perspective by Fitch and Popescu). For songs specifically, three dimensions characterize more than 25% of the performances studied: formality of the performance, arousal level, and religiosity. There is more variation in musical behavior within societies than between societies, and societies show similar levels of within-society variation in musical behavior. At the same time, one-third of societies significantly differ from average for any given dimension, and half of all societies differ from average on at least one dimension, indicating variability across cultures.

Science, this issue p. eaax0868; see also p. 944

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