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Why do people whistle? © Getty Images

Why do people whistle?

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Give us a toot! There is remarkably little research on why humans whistle.

Asked by: Tony Webb, Langford


Apart from a small study from 2011 that found men whistle more than women, there’s actually remarkably little psychology research on whistling.

However, music is a human universal found all over the world and whistling is just another form of what music scholars call ‘momentary musical performing’, alongside singing in the shower, drumming a beat on the desk and humming while you do the housework, with the choice of tune likely reflecting our mood or perhaps chosen in an attempt to enhance it. Whistling is something we especially tend to do when we’re bored.

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Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.


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