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Niels Chr. Hansen

Assistant Professor, Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Denmark and MARCS Institute, Western Sydney University, Australia.

During his AIAS-COFUND Fellowship, Niels Chr. Hansen will be working on the project 'Why humans make music: uncovering missing links in the behavioural and neurohormonal underpinnings of musical evolution'.

Project description

Although music is cross-culturally omnipresent with evolutionary origins far beyond 40,000 years of archaeological evidence, it remains a mystery why humans invest vast resources on creating and listening to music. Prominent theories propose that music becomes biologically adaptive by inducing social cohesion, signalling fitness to potential mates, consolidating bonds between infants and caregivers, facilitating coordinated manual labour, and by providing a mnemonic device for preserving communal knowledge. Yet, empirical evidence remains sparse and an overall framework uniting evolutionary theories with reference to underlying neurobiological mechanisms is missing.

Given its role in prosocial behaviour, pair formation, parental caregiving, physical stress reduction, and social memory, the neurohormone oxytocin offers an exciting and underexplored avenue in this regard. It is hypothesized that joint music making leads to oxytocin release which—as shown by the principal researcher and colleagues—enhances prediction and imbues behaviour with emotional significance.

Combining methods from evolutionary psychology, musicology, and neuroscience, this project aims to expand the evidence base for music as a complex, socially embedded, biologically underpinned, and cross-culturally universal behaviour, distinguishing humans from other animal species.

Short bio

Niels Chr. Hansen (PhD, MSc, MMus, BA) holds degrees in psychology/neuroscience, music theory, and classical piano. His current research comprises behavioural, neurophysiological, and corpus-based studies on sensorimotor synchronization, melodic expectation, ecological acoustics, jazz improvisation, absolute pitch, and the emotional underpinnings of Western orchestration practice. Having played concerts throughout Europe as a classical pianist, he is also a dedicated performer of Central-Javanese gamelan. In a recent TEDx talk, he argues that “We are all musical beings”.


Project title:

Why humans make music: uncovering missing links in the behavioural and neurohormonal underpinnings of musical evolution

Area of research:

Psychology, Empirical Musicology, Cognitive Neuroscience    

Fellowship period:

01 Feb 2020 – 31 Jan 2023

Selected Publications

Contact information on Niels Chr. Hansen