Chimpanzees Show Strong Musical Preferences

Varied rhythms of music from Africa, India draw their interest, researchers report

FRIDAY, June 27, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Like humans, chimpanzees appear to have strong musical preferences, researchers report.

Chimpanzees seem to like the rhythm of music from Africa and India, but they try to avoid Japanese music.

The findings may help improve understanding of how people's musical preferences evolved, according to the authors of the study in the June 23 online issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition.

"Our objective was not to find a preference for different cultures' music. We used cultural music from Africa, India and Japan to pinpoint specific acoustic properties," study co-author Frans de Waal, of Emory University, said in a journal news release.

"Past research has focused only on Western music and has not addressed the very different acoustic features of non-Western music. While nonhuman primates have previously indicated a preference among music choices, they have consistently chosen silence over the types of music previously tested," said de Waal.

The researchers played African, Indian and Japanese music to chimps in large outdoor enclosures. When the African and Indian music was playing, the chimps spent much more time in areas where they could best hear the music.

When the Japanese music was played, the chimps spent more time in locations where it was difficult or nearly impossible to hear the music.

The Japanese music had regular strong beats, which is also typical of Western music. Previous research has shown that chimps prefer silence to Western music. The African and Indian music played in the study had extreme ratios of strong to weak beats.

"Chimpanzees may perceive the strong, predictable rhythmic patterns as threatening, as chimpanzee dominance displays commonly incorporate repeated rhythmic sounds such as stomping, clapping and banging objects," de Waal said.

The findings offer "compelling evidence that our shared evolutionary histories may include favoring sounds outside of both humans' and chimpanzees' immediate survival cues," study author Morgan Mingle, of Emory and Southwestern University in Austin, said in the news release.

"Our study highlights the importance of sampling across the gamut of human music to potentially identify features that could have a shared evolutionary root," Mingle noted.

More information

The University of Washington has more about music and the brain.

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, June 26, 2014
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