African music preferred by chimps

Chimpanzees like to listen to the different rhythms of music from Africa and India, but prefer silence to music from the West, according to new research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

“We used cultural music from Africa, India and Japan to pinpoint specific acoustic properties,” said study co-author Frans de Waal, 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 nonhuman primates prefer slower tempos, but the new findings may be the first to show that they display a preference for particular rhythmic patterns. “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 study authors contend.

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 rhythmic patterns as threatening, as chimpanzee dominance displays commonly incorporate repeated rhythmic sounds such as stomping, clapping and banging objects,” said de Waal.

“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,” added co-author Morgan Mingle. “Our study highlights the importance of sampling across the gamut of human music to potentially identify features that could have a shared evolutionary root.”

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Source: American Psychological Association

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