The rhythms of Indian and African tunes are music to the ears of
chimpanzees, according to a new study published by a research team
from Emory University.
Previous research has established that chimps would rather be in
silence than listen to Western music and that they generally prefer
slower tempos, but the new research published by the American
Psychological Association has revealed that they actively enjoy
music from Africa and India. Although it has long been established
that non-human primates can easily distinguish between musical
properties such as rhythm, these are the first findings that
suggest the primates may in fact have a preference for different
types of rhythmical patterns.
In order to establish this, researchers played music near to the
chimpanzee enclosures and found that they were more likely to spend
time in the areas where they would be able to hear the music when
African and Indian songs were playing. When Japanese music was
played, however, they tended to move to areas where it was
difficult or impossible to hear the music. “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 co-author Frans de Waal.
Unlike Japanese music, which tends to possess regular strong
beats, much like Western music, African and Indian music tends to
have 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,” said de Waal.
Sixteen chimpanzees housed separately in two groups were exposed
to 40 minutes of music. The proximity of each of the chimps to the
speaker was recorded every two minutes and compared to the
positions of a control group. Western music was not used in the
test as previous exposure may have biased the results.
In the study, the researchers point out that: “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.”
You can read the full study, published by the American
Psychological Association in the
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and