Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Can a bonobo keep the beat?

Date: November 24, 2015
Source: American Psychological Association

Humans have a remarkable ability to synchronize to complex, temporally structured acoustic signals, an ability which is believed to underlie social coordination and may be a precursor to speech. This ability takes years to develop. Although infants move to periodic rhythmic stimuli, children do not synchronize movements to frequency or tempo until the age of 8 or 9. Synchrony in young children is facilitated by social interaction, and promotes prosocial behavior in both children and adults. Rhythmic behavior has recently been observed in other animals, including parrots, budgerigars, sea lions, rhesus monkeys, and chimpanzees, although in the majority of these cases animals were explicitly trained to synchronize.

Because chimpanzees and bonobos are genetically similar to humans, understanding rhythmic abilities in these species has direct implications for understanding the evolution of speech and music. Indeed, chimpanzees and bonobos display bouts of rhythmic drumming as part of display or play behavior. In a recent paper published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, Large and Gray (2015) assessed spontaneous and synchronized drumming tempo in a female bonobo (Kuni) who self-selected to participate by regularly approaching a human drummer in a designated research area within a bonobo zoo enclosure. Prior to the experiment, the bonobos (including Kuni) were exposed to a human drummer and were rewarded for any strike of the drum, but were not trained to produce a specific rhythm or to synchronize with the experimenter.

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