What Music Do Animals Like?

What Music Do Animals Like?

Research published today by the American Psychological Association has shown that chimpanzees prefer listening to West African akan and North Indian raga over listening to silence. What does this say about the evolutionary purpose of music?

Previous work by McDermott and Hauser showed that when tamarins and marmosets were given a choice between a lullaby played on a flute, an excerpt of German techno, or silence, they preferred silence. This new research was investigating whether non-Western music might provoke a different response in nonhuman primates. Would the different rhythmic structures and musical scales in non-Western music change preferences?

The study played African, Indian, and Japanese music near large chimp enclosures and looked at whether the animals spent time in places where the music was loud and clear or in places further from the loudspeakers, where it was quiet or inaudible. For African and Indian music the chimps spent significantly more time in places where the music could be heard. For Japanese music they more often went to places where the music was difficult or impossible to hear.

The researchers think the preference may be due to the rhythmic content of the music. The African and Indian pieces didn’t have an obvious pulse to them that you could tap your foot along to, whereas the Japanese music had a strong regular pulse.

Study co-author Frans de Waal, Ph.D., of Emory University, commented, “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.”

One reason for this sort of study is to try to understand the evolutionary basis for music. Experimental psychologist Steven Pinker famously described music as “auditory cheesecake,” something that is pleasurable but has no adaptive function, arising as a byproduct of other evolutionary pressures, like the pressure that led to the development of language. But if music is purely a byproduct of the pressures that led to language, then why would chimpanzees show a preference for some types of music?

The number of scientific papers looking into the role of rhythm in music is surprisingly small. This bias is something that needs addressing if we are to fully understand why we make and love music.

Follow Trevor Cox on Twitter: www.twitter.com/trevor_cox




The music preferences of animals vary greatly depending on species, individual preferences, and environmental factors. While some research suggests that certain animals may show a preference for specific types of music or sounds, the topic remains complex and not fully understood. Here are a few examples:

1. **Birds**: Studies have shown that some birds, particularly those known for their vocalizations such as canaries and budgerigars, may respond positively to music. They may sing more or exhibit increased activity when exposed to certain types of music, particularly those with rhythmic patterns or high frequencies. Additionally, some birds, such as the snowball cockatoo, have been observed dancing or moving in time to music.

2. **Dogs**: Dogs may react to music in various ways depending on their individual temperament and experiences. Some dogs may appear relaxed or calm when exposed to classical music or soft melodies, while others may become more alert or excited in response to upbeat or rhythmic music. There is some evidence to suggest that classical music, particularly compositions with slower tempos and lower frequencies, may have a soothing effect on dogs in stressful environments, such as animal shelters.

3. **Cats**: Cats are known for their independent and discerning nature, and their response to music can vary widely among individuals. While some cats may ignore music altogether, others may show interest or curiosity when exposed to certain sounds. Music with repetitive patterns or rhythmic beats may be more likely to capture a cat’s attention, while loud or discordant music may cause discomfort or anxiety.

4. **Elephants**: Elephants are highly social and intelligent animals with sensitive hearing. Some research suggests that elephants may be responsive to music, particularly low-frequency sounds and rhythmic patterns. In one study, elephants at a wildlife sanctuary in Thailand appeared to show interest in and sway in time to classical music played on a piano.

5. **Whales and Dolphins**: Whales and dolphins are known for their complex vocalizations and communication abilities. While there is limited research on their response to music specifically, some studies have explored the use of music and sound recordings in therapeutic interventions with captive cetaceans. It is suggested that certain types of music or sounds may have a calming or stimulating effect on these animals, but more research is needed to understand their preferences and responses fully.

Overall, the music preferences of animals are still a topic of ongoing research and exploration. While some species may show a response to music or sounds, individual preferences and environmental factors play a significant role in determining how animals react to auditory stimuli.

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