The Evolution of Musical Rhythm: Which Species Can Synchronize with a Beat, and Why?

Saturday, 15 February 2014
Columbus AB (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Aniruddh Patel , Tufts University, Medford, MA
Moving in synchrony with a musical beat is seen in every human culture, yet is not commonly observed in our familiar animal companions such as dogs, cats, and farm animals.  How did this capacity arise in evolution, and is it really restricted to certain species?  According to the “vocal learning and rhythmic synchronization hypothesis” (Patel, 2006), only animals capable of vocal learning (learning to produce complex vocal signals based on auditory experience and sensory feedback) have the capacity to synchronize to a musical beat in a manner similar to humans, because only these species have the rich auditory-motor neural connections that support this ability.  This hypothesis has now been tested by different scientists examining a variety of species, including several parrot species, Asian elephants, macaque monkeys, chimpanzees, and California sea lions.  I will review these studies and point the way to future research with other species (including dogs and horses) which can help further test and refine the vocal learning hypothesis.