Episode 138: Evolving the Musical Mind with Dr. Alan Harvey

From the very beginning of our species, musical communication has been a key component of prosocial, cooperative behaviors, acting as a counterweight to the other, newly evolved human communication system—language. It is about why music continues to be an essential part of human cognitive well-being in the twenty-first century.

From the Abstract of “Music, Evolution, and the Harmony of Souls.”

In this episode, I am excited to once again, go OUTSIDE of the music education sphere to seek some important and relevant expertise. I invited neuroscientist Dr. Alan Harvey on to give a different perspective on how music and language interact with human evolution. He is well known for a wonderful TED Talk on music and the brain, well as for writing a fascinating book on the evolution of music in the species. (Linked below.) I was fascinated listening to Dr. Harvey lay out the reasons humans may have developed music as a necessary evolutionary adaptation, from a common precursor of our spoken language as well as a way to stimulate the production of oxytocin and much more. “We needed another communication system whose primary role was to bring us together in groups. To drive altruism, cooperation, social interaction, and cooperation. That is why music and dance evolved in parallel with spoken language.”


Born in London, UK. BA and MA from the University of Cambridge, PhD in visual neurophysiology from the Australian National University, Canberra. After time in the USA and at Flinders University in Adelaide, Alan Harvey came to UWA in 1984.  He was promoted to Professor in 2001 and in 2016 became an Emeritus Professor. He was for a number of years a member of the WA Reproductive Technology Council, a Board member of the Neurological Council of WA, and a Board Member of the Perron Institute for Neurological and Translational Science. He was Chair of the Perron Scientific Advisory Committee.   He has also been a Board Member of the The University Club of Western Australia, and the Perth Symphonic Chorus.

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Research interests

Continued studies on the use of gene therapy, transplantation and other bioengineering technologies in CNS repair, with increasing focus on spinal cord. Harvey has ongoing collaborations with Dr Stuart Hodgetts, Dr Jenny Rodger, Dr Dave Nisbett, Dr Vince Wallace, and Dr A Akari.

Publication by Oxford University Press in 2017 of his book: “Music, Evolution and the Harmony of Souls”, combines Harvey’s neuroscience and music interests.  Increasingly working with colleagues on neuroscience/music related topics.

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