Do humans have a biological need for rhythmic movement? Do we need to be making rhythmic movements? Is there a biological need for us to be performing rhythmic movements?
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "Instinct is the inherent disposition of a living organism toward a particular action. Instincts are generally inherited patterns of responses or reactions to certain kinds of stimuli. In humans they are most easily observed in behaviors such as emotions, sexual drive, and other bodily functions, as these are largely biologically determined."
We often see parents performing rhythmic movements with a child. Adults will hold a child and bounce the infant to calm down the infant. This might be a bobbing movement or a side-to-side movement or a jiggling movement. The children tell the parents which movement is most relaxing for them. Adults want crying children to stop, so they quickly understand which way this infant responds to best. No one needs to tell the parents that the infant needs their favorite movement. The parent knows. This certainly seems to be an 'inherent disposition . . . toward a particular action' as defined for an instinct. Adults normally bounce the infant. It's possible that the need for this movement may be the reason that the baby is crying.
When children have enough strength in their legs to hold themselves up (with help), they often start performing rhythmic movements. They bob up and down while 'standing'. Many children at this age, are given bouncy chairs which hang by elastic from the ceiling and the children use these chairs to bounce themselves. Babies in these seats do not sit still. As soon as the discover they can make the seat move up-and-down, they move up-and-down and every time they get in the chair, they move up-and-down. This also seems to be an 'inherent disposition . . . toward a particular action' as defined for an instinct. The children normally take action to move up-and-down. Because of the elastic holding the chair, the movements the baby causes are rhythmic.
When we stand a infant on a bed, the infant naturally starts to move up-and-down. We adults might tell the infant to stop that movement, but the normal tendency of the infant is to move up-and-down. Again, this seems to be an 'inherent disposition . . . toward a particular action' as defined for an instinct. The infant naturally starts to bounce.
Primitive groups all over the the earth have many ongoing rhythmic activities. Most activities for children involve rhythmic movement. The majority of the ceremonies for these groups involve rhythmic movement. When village members get together for a task, they usually perform these tasks in rhythm to a song. Primitive groups all have a strong tendency to be rhythmic in all activities (work, play, and ceremony). When all these primitive groups around the world focus strongly on rhythmic movements, this is another example of an 'inherent disposition . . . toward a particular action' as defined for an instinct. If there is a strong tendency for all primitive groups around the world to be rhythmic, this universal tendency toward rhythmic activities did not come about by chance. There must be a biological requirement of some kind for all these rhythmic activities to be so universal across primitive groups.
One African people has a wonderful rhythmic activity for boys. They stand in a circle facing the back of the boy next to them. They put their right hand on the right shoulder of the boy in front and lift their left leg. They use their left hand to take the left leg of the boy in front of them. Now the boys are all balancing on their right legs, in a circle. The leader starts the song that goes with this activity, and the boys start jumping in unison to the beat of the song. The groups of younger children jump a few inches, and the groups of older children jump 12 to 15 inches high. They continue the rhythmic jumping, in unison, until one of them loses the rhythm and the boys all fall down. Usually, the boys fall on the one who loses the rhythm. This activity teaches group rhythm and provides energetic peer pressure to have good rhythm.
We have seen that rhythmic activities seem to be normal across primitive groups all over the world. We have seen that adults and infants and children will start and maintain rhythmic activities. We have seen that children ask for rhythmic activities. We have seen that all over the world primitive groups emphasize rhythmic activities for all members of that people. And, even though we may be more culturally advanced, patty-cake, jump-rope, bouncing, rocking, dancing, hand-clapping to music, and other rhythmic activities still remain fully available in our modern groups.
We know from our work experience that good rhythmicity is directly related to coordination. We also know that those with poor rhythmicity are usually considered to be developmentally delayed. When these children who are developmentally delayed learn good rhythmicity, they pick up where they were developmentally stuck and begin to mature in a normal way.
We believe that there is a rhythmicity instinct, and the biological need supporting this instinct is for the appropriate development of some rhythmic oscillators in the brain; these rhythmic oscillators are needed for coordination and good physical performance. We believe that these rhythmic oscillators are the biological engine that maintains the functioning of the normal developmental process.
We know that continued, appropriate rhythmic activities re-starts and maintains these oscillators. So the biological need is for the appropriate development of these oscillators, which drives appropriate human development and maturity and drives the on-going maintenance of a person's coordination and good physical performance.
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Clifford David has degrees in Social Science and Educational Counseling. You can read more of his thoughts at Rhythm of the Music
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