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I was outside today thinking how nice it was to hear the birds back from winter when I started thinking about the fact that we like bird song. It makes us happy in a very basic level, the sort of level that usually implies subtle evolved instincts. Thus I started wondering, why do humans all over the world naturally love the sound of birds?

The simplest explanation that came to my mind was because birds supposedly will flee or be quite when predators are around. Thus the presence of birds singing may indirectly mean a lower chance of predation. In other words it's less that were happy when birds are singing, as that were a little more on edge when they aren't singing.

However, that seems almost too easy an explanation. Has anyone more intelligent then a random computer geek who's just happy to be away from the computer for a few hours put any more effort into considering this? What is the generally accepted hypothesis?

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  • $\begingroup$ I specifically don't really love bird songs (it is indifferent to me or sometimes quite irritating), I think I'm not the only one. Please don't think that I'm a horrible person. I just wanted to point out that your claims might be a bit wide.... $\endgroup$ – Nandor Poka Apr 21 '15 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ Bird song appreciation is a thing that most (if not all) people experience at least some times and the question falls within the field of "evolution of behaviour" or more accurately "evolutionary psychology". I think it is a totally valid question. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Apr 21 '15 at 20:45
  • $\begingroup$ I've never doubted that this is indeed a valid question. I just wanted to point out (with some self-irony) that not everybody loves bird songs. Nontheless this is an interesting question. $\endgroup$ – Nandor Poka Apr 21 '15 at 20:52
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    $\begingroup$ @poka.nandor sorry, your a horrible person and you will clearly be hunted down and burn on the stake any moment now :) yes I generalized a little bit, but I think the majority of people do in a way that suggest evolutionary influences, even if there are some (clearly horrible) outliers :) $\endgroup$ – dsollen Apr 21 '15 at 21:19
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    $\begingroup$ I had a good laugh at your comment. Good to see that this site is full of joyful and friendly people. As i said earlier your question is totally valid in terms of what @Remi.b said. $\endgroup$ – Nandor Poka Apr 21 '15 at 22:28
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Crows and gulls would probably also flee predators but their songs are definitely not really pleasant to listen to! I know it, they woke me up last week-end $\ddot \smile$. The canadian goose or the common starling (see here) are other examples of not really pleasant songs.

Too a selectionist view of evolutionary processes

It is important not to make the mistake to see anything as an adaptation (a result of natural selection only). Evolution is way more than natural selection and it encompasses tons of stochastic processes. This answer has a paragraph on the subject of not thinking of anything as a result of natural selection. This kind of over-consideration of adaptive processes in evolution is a common mistake especially when thinking about how human behaviour evolved.

Evolutionary psychology and evolution of appreciation of bird songs

The field of evolutionary psychology may interest you but note that it is a field that is sometimes still at the limit between psychology, philosophy and biology.

Appreciation of art as a by-product

Appreciation of art (like birds songs) and beauty is a pretty poorly understood subject yet. The first hypotheses came from Darwin and Gould. They pretty much argued that we enjoy sex, grasp facial expressions (kin recognition), have to like logical proof to appreciate learning and acquire language, efficient communication (cooperative hunting), appreciate put oneself into others thoughts (Machiavellian intelligence), etc... As a result of those selection pressure, we may have evolved, so-called by-products. A by-product is a phenotypic trait that hasn't been directly selected for but that has been selected via its correlation to some other phenotypic trait that is under positive selection and that is correlated. If this is true, then there would have a correlation between cognitive abilities and art appreciation and therefore a correlation between art appreciation and fitness.

Appreciation of art due to sexual selection

Some have argued that looking at the importance of art appreciation and intelligence in today's mate choice, it is likely that art appreciation may have been reinforced by sexual selection.

Either sexual selection may have reinforced a trait that was correlated to fitness ("evolution of appreciation of art as a by-product" hypothesis).

It is also possible that sexual selection may have selected for art appreciation without art appreciation being correlated with fitness but just because it asks for a big brain and lots of energy (brains consumes lots of energy) and being able to appreciate arts means that the individual has extra-energy to spare and is therefore very fit (handicap principle).

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  • $\begingroup$ I understand your general point, but could you elaborate on what you mean by appreciation of beauty is due to having a big brain? $\endgroup$ – dsollen Apr 22 '15 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen It is a good point, it was indeed still unclear. I've been trying to develop the ideas a bit further. It is really not my field and I don't expect that my summary is a good review of the thoughts and evidences we have on the subject. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Apr 22 '15 at 15:42

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