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Honing, Henkjan

Honing, Henkjan

Henkjan Honing, born in Hilversum, the Netherlands, in 1959. Ph.D. from City University, London, UK. Professor in Music Cognition (in both the Faculty of Humanities and Faculty of Science) at the University of Amsterdam.

Distinguished Lorentz Fellow (1 September 2013 – 30 June 2014)


Research Question

What was the role of music in the evolutionary history of human beings?

Project Description

I will explore what cognitive science and biology can reveal about the origins of music and musicality. Many studies on the evolution of music focus on the question of what defines music: Can birdsong, the song structure of humpback whales, a Thai elephant orchestra, or a gibbon duet be considered music? In trying to answer these questions, it is important to separate the notions of ‘music’ and ‘musicality’. Musicality can be defined as a natural, spontaneously developing trait based on and constrained by our cognitive system, whereas music is a social and cultural construct that is built on this musicality. However, it is still a challenge to demarcate precisely what makes up this trait we call ‘musicality’. What cognitive mechanisms are involved in perceiving, making and appreciating music? How might they have evolved? In other words, any study of the evolution of musicality first requires a characterization of the underlying cognitive and biological mechanisms.

Selected Publications

1) Honing, H. (2012). Without it no music: beat induction as a fundamental musical trait. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1252: The Neurosciences and Music IV — Learning and Memory, 85–91. DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06402.x

2) Honing, H., & Ploeger, A. (2012). Cognition and the Evolution of Music: Pitfalls and Prospects. Topics in Cognitive Science (TopiCS). DOI: 10.1111/j.1756-8765.2012.01210.x

3) Honing, H. (2013). The structure and interpretation of rhythm in music. In Deutsch, D. (ed.), Psychology of Music, 3rd edition (pp. 369-404). London: Academic Press.

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