The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues


Music hath charms to soothe a savage beast,

To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak. --Congreve (The Mourning Bride, I, 1)

Auditory signals. A usually pleasing, sequential arrangement of vocal or instrumental sounds.
Usage: Music produces a highly evocative, emotional message through harmony, melody, rhythm, and timbre.
Amusia. "Cases of amusia, i.e., loss of ability to produce or comprehend music--an abnormality as regards music analogous to aphasia as regards the faculty of speech--conclusively demonstrate that the musical faculties do not depend on the speech faculty [i.e., one may suffer from amusia without aphasia, and vice versa, though some may suffer from both]" (Reiling 1999:218).
Anthropology. So diverse are the world's musical "languages" that some sociocultural anthropologists specialize entirely in ethnomusicology.

Head bangers1. In a study of early-childhood head bangers, mothers described their children as ". . . prone to rhythmic activity in response to musical stimuli" (De Lissovoy 1962:56; see SELF-TOUCHNeuro-notes). 2. ". . . all of the [33] subjects had a history of other rhythmic activities, such as head or body rolling, prior to the head banging" (De Lissovoy 1962:56). 3. Girls head banged 19-to-52, while boys head banged 26-to-121, times per minute (De Lissovoy 1962). 

Lullaby. "A Chinese lullaby is just as soothing to a child as a German song or any other. When listening to lullabyes, breathing becomes shallow and regular like that of a sleeping person. The characteristics of this form of breathing are also in the structure of the lullaby" (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1970:439). 

Prehistory. "During the last two decades many investigators--Kussmaul, Stumpf, Preyer, Oppenheim, Knoblouch, Charcot, etc.--have conclusively demonstrated that the musical faculty is older than that of speech; that music is a primary and simple phenomenon, while speech is secondary and complex" (Reiling 1999:218).

Symphony. "The highs and lows of emotional experiences are touched in an ever-changing pattern that cannot be experienced in everyday life" (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1970:440).

FIELD NOTES: To study the special role music plays in human courtship, CNS conducted field observations at an outdoor rock concert--Endfest 2000--held on Saturday, August 5, 2000, on the Kitsap Peninsula, west of Seattle, Washington, USA.

The question: "Why is the sound of music important in human courtship?"

Ethnographic background. Thousands of Endfesters arrived; they were 17-to-30 years old, mostly unmarried, urban, white, heterosexual fans of alternative rock music. Showing up in groups of 2, 3, and 4--all-male, all-female, or mixed female-and-male--they were excited and ready to rock.

Adornment. Endfesters dressed to show off essential male or female gender cues, and to display individuality, personality, and allegiance to the alternative lifestyle. Fans wore identity-proclaiming belts, boots, bracelets, caps and hats, cut-through jeans, dark glasses, earrings, necklaces, foot-revealing sandals, conspicuously displayed underwear, idiosyncratic watches, and very visible tatoos. Band members dressed in black (see COLOR CUEBLACK).

Hair. Endfesters delighted in the display of head hair (see HAIR CUE). The most outstanding display was a man's well-groomed, magenta topknot, projecting stiffly above his close-cropped hair's jet-black sidewalls. Clearly visible at distances of 100 yards, his nonverbal message was aposematic with the coloration and contrast of a stinging wasp or bee: "Danger, danger, danger!" (see HATCap III).

Media. In poster photographs published in the August 5, 2000 Bremerton Sun newspaper, blank-faced band members of Third Eye Blind lean away sideward to show defiant attitudes. Unsmiling, blank-faced members of 3 Doors Down stare menacingly, straight ahead (see EYE CONTACTUsage). Unsmiling, blank-faced members of Papa Roach pose with their heads tilted sideward in a posture popularized by the method actor, James Dean (see SHOULDER-SHRUGMedia).

Motion I. Because both our auditory and vestibular senses involve sensors housed within the ears, music powerfully suggests movement. The phrase "rock and roll," e.g., is a vestibular metaphor for the sound of music. The loud rock music at Endfest joined listeners as psychic "fellow travelers," and thus enhanced the rapport of strangers in the crowd.

Motion II. Set to music, Endfester body movements took on a more palpable, emotional appeal. Submerged in the loud electronic beat, group isopraxism bourgeoned and enhanced as well.

Emotion I. Not only were the rock-music lyrics spoken in heightened emotional voice tones, but the guitar and organ sounds, which mimic the sound-range of the human voice itself, also "spoke" to the crowd's feelings and moods.

Emotion II. Singers used aggressive, angry voice tones to scream and shout--in order to target negative emotion centers of the brain's amygdala. Threatening sounds, venomous shrieks, and harmful, biting words put into the summer air, very amplified, from tensed throats, touched off feelings of group belonging and "togetherness" via the biological principle ofaggression-out. Just as monkeys mob outsiders, by sharing dislike for and distrust of mainstream (i.e., non-alternative) values, Endfesters became a close-knit group in which courtship could take place.

Speech. Amplified (16 coaxial cables fed into the main stage), the words of the rock musicians fully engaged listeners' brains. Addressed to the crowd through eye contact, listeners felt emotionally and personally connected--not only to the singers but to each other as well.

Sound. In mating rituals throughout the world, auditory cues play a tactile role as they pave the way for physical touching itself (see AUDITORY CUECourtship).

Touch. In the crowds surrounding Stage A, men formed ad hoc combat circles and pushed each other to and fro, with their hands held in aggressively pronated (i.e., palm-down) positions, as Harvey Danger played its hit song, "Flagpole Sitta." Surrounded by women, the pushing and shoving was not unlike the ritual clash of elk antlers in mating season.

Neuro-notes I. Research on amusia suggests ". . . that there is only one musical center in the cerebrum, and that it is situated in the anterior two-thirds of the first temporal convolution and in the anterior half of the second temporal convolution of the left lobe, i.e., in front of the [speech-comprehension] center of Wernicke" (Reiling 1999:218).

Neuro-notes II. "Larionoff has made numerous ingenious experiments on dogs, with a view of defining the localization of the auditory centers, and has come to the following conclusions: There are several sensory musical centers situated in the posterior halves of the hemispheres, and several motor centers situated in the anterior halves of the hemispheres of the cerebrum. Of the sensory, two tone centers are situated in the temporal lobes, and one optic center, for the reading of notes, situated alongside of the center for ordinary reading, in the gyrus angularis. The motor center of notewriting probably develops alongside of the center for ordinary writing, in the second frontal convolution. The singing center is situated a little behind the motor center of speech of Broca, in the third frontal convolution, and is otherwise known as the center of Krause. The motor center presiding over the functions of performing on various instruments develops on exercising, in the anterior part of the central convolution alongside of the motor center of note writing. The center for playing wind instruments is developed in the region governing the movements of the lips, a little above the center of Krause . . ." (Reiling 1999:218).

Neuro-notes III. PET studies of listening to familiar melodies show involvement of the right superior temporal cortex, the right inferior temporal cortex, and the supplementary motor area (Halpern and Zatorre 1999). Retrieval of a familiar melody activates the right frontal area and right superior temporal gyrus (Halpern and Zatorre 1999). No significant activity was observed in the left temporal lobe (Halpern and Zatorre 1999). "It is concluded that areas of right auditory association cortex, together with right and left frontal cortices, are implicated in imagery for familiar melodies" (Halpern and Zatorre 1999). "Retrieval from musical semantic memory is mediated by structures in the right frontal lobe" (Halpern and Zatorre 1999).

Neuro-notes IVMirror neurons: According to Istvan Molnar-Szakacs and Katie Overy, ". . . music can invoke motor representations of emotions by recruiting the insula, a neural relay between the limbic and motor systems. Action, language and music appear to share neural resources, and we have proposed that common features governing the use and function of these means of communication may be represented within the fronto-parietal mirror neuron system" ("Music and Mirror Neurons: From Motion to 'E'motion," in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2006, Vol. 1, Issue 3, pp. 235-41).


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