Chimps prefer African, Indian tunes over strong beats typical of Western music, research finds

Jun 26, 2014
Psychological research with chimpanzees like Tara, above, has found chimps prefer silence to Western music. New research published by the American Psychological Association reveals chimpanzees like listening to other types of world music, such as African and Indian. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University

While preferring silence to music from the West, chimpanzees apparently like to listen to the different rhythms of music from Africa and India, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

"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," said study coauthor Frans de Waal, PhD, of Emory University. "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."

Previous research has found that some prefer slower tempos, but the current findings may be the first to show that they display a preference for particular rhythmic patterns, according to the study. "Although Western music, such as pop, blues and classical, sound different to the casual listener, they all follow the same musical and acoustic patterns. Therefore, by testing only different Western music, previous research has essentially replicated itself," the authors wrote. The study was published in APA's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition.

When African and Indian music was played near their large outdoor enclosures, the chimps spent significantly more time in areas where they could best hear the music. When Japanese music was played, they were more likely to be found in spots where it was more difficult or impossible to hear the music. The African and Indian music in the experiment had extreme ratios of strong to weak beats, whereas the Japanese music had regular strong beats, which is also typical of Western music.

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

Sixteen adult chimps in two groups participated in the experiment at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University. Over 12 consecutive days for 40 minutes each morning, the groups were given the opportunity to listen to African, Indian or Japanese music playing on a portable stereo near their outdoor enclosure. Another portable stereo not playing any music was located at a different spot near the enclosure to rule out behavior that might be associated with an object rather than the music. The different types of music were at the same volume but played in random order. Each day, researchers observed the chimps and recorded their location every two minutes with handwritten notes. They also videotaped the activity in the enclosure. The chimps' behavior when the music was played was compared to their behavior with no music.

"Chimpanzees displaying a preference for music over silence is compelling evidence that our shared evolutionary histories may include favoring sounds outside of both humans' and chimpanzees' immediate survival cues," said lead author Morgan Mingle, BA, of Emory and Southwestern University in Austin. "Our study highlights the importance of sampling across the gamut of human to potentially identify features that could have a shared evolutionary root."

Explore further: New digital music store to cater to theater fans

More information: "Chimpanzees Prefer African and Indian Music Over Silence," Morgan E. Mingle, BA, Emory University and Southwestern University; Timothy M. Eppley, PhD, and Matthew W. Campbell, PhD, Emory University; Katie Hall, PhD, Emory University and University of St Andrews; Victoria Horner, PhD, and Frans B. M. de Waal, PhD, Emory University; Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, online June 23, 2014. www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xan-0000032.pdf

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User comments : 5

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flashgordon
5 / 5 (1) Jun 26, 2014
I wonder what Gorillas like, musically . . . ?
mapmanic
1 / 5 (1) Jun 26, 2014
It was not clear from the article whether the different types of music, after the initial exposure, were then rotated through the players to eliminate the possibility that the chimps were drawn to or repelled from certain areas for reasons other than the types of music being played. Surely the experimenters controlled for this...
verkle
not rated yet Jun 26, 2014
Interesting to note the difference in African and Western strong beat music, as much of this Western music was strongly influenced by African music.

I would like to see a comparison of the chimps reaction to this music compared to classical music, most of which does not have this beat (i.e. is not sycopated).

The effect of classical music to animals has been extensively reported in the last 60 years, as in this article:

http://www.thegua...ic-elgar

ipman
5 / 5 (1) Jun 27, 2014
Yes, we have BOTH kinds of music here.. country AND western!

U S A
U S A
U S A... :)
Sinister1812
not rated yet Jun 27, 2014
I wonder what Gorillas like, musically . . . ?


They listen to Clint Eastwood by Gorillaz.