Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

They like to move it, move it

  • Print

Dancing animals aren't just a viral-video sensation; they're the subject of serious science. At the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, one panel explored the ability of certain animals to follow a musical beat. The session, titled Rhythmic Entrainment in Non-Human Animals: An Evolutionary Trail of Time Perception, featured experts in psychology, neuroscience, neurobiology, language and intelligence. With new studies that "hold increasing promise for understanding the evolutionary trajectories of perception and cognition of temporal dynamics," according to the session abstract, we now finally have a chance of figuring out what's behind all those dancing-bird videos.

The ability to sense rhythm could help animals distinguish among sounds from different sources and help them synchronize their movements, which can improve perception by providing periods of relative silence.

In humans, according to panellist Aniruddh Patel, a cognitive neuroscientist at Tufts, rhythmic beats activate a broad network of auditory and motor-planning regions of the brain. Structures such as the basal ganglia are known to be important for timing, and areas of the parietal cortex are thought to help co-ordinate different cerebral regions. Similar brain activities have now been observed in other animals.

Impressively, researchers have now specifically demonstrated the ability of cockatoos, bonobos, sea lions and other animals to not only extract a beat from music and follow it, but to adjust their movement if the tempo is changed. Peter Cook, a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University who has closely observed the dancing sea lion Ronan, writes: "The neural mechanisms underpinning flexible beat-keeping may be much more widely distributed across the animal kingdom than previously thought."

The sea lion studies are especially interesting. For years, scientists have thought animals' "rhythmic entrainment" (the ability to synchronize with an external beat) was necessarily associated with vocal capacities to imitate sound. Sea lions are quite limited in the sounds they can make, which "poses a real problem for the theory that vocal mimicry is a necessary precondition for rhythmic entrainment," according to Cook.

Mysteries remain, of course, but this body of research has important implications for evolutionary biology, animal communication systems, and other fields of study. As a story in National Geographic points out, it also contributes to our understanding of the evolution of music among humans. Some researchers have studied the adaptive value of rhythm, noting music has a social-bonding function in humans. These animal studies take us a step closer toward understanding how the ability to sing and dance evolved.

 

-- Slate

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2014 D4

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Bowman questioned on financial solutions for city

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A young goose gobbles up grass at Fort Whyte Alive Monday morning- Young goslings are starting to show the markings of a adult geese-See Bryksa 30 day goose challenge- Day 20– June 11, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • MIKE APORIUS/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS BUSINESS - cow on farm owned by cattle farmer Lloyd Buchanan near Argyle Wednesday afternoon -see Larry Kusch's story  January 04/2006

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think e-cigarettes should be banned by the school division?

View Results

Ads by Google