A study of bonobos, closely related to chimpanzees, shows
they have an innate ability to match tempo and synchronize a
beat with human experimenters.
For the study, researchers designed a highly resonate,
bonobo-friendly drum able to withstand 500 pounds of jumping
pressure, chewing, and other ape-like behaviors.
"Bonobos are very attuned to sound. They hear above our range of
hearing," said Patricia Gray, a biomusic program director at
University of North Carolina in Greensboro.
Experimenters beat a drum at a tempo favored by bonobos — roughly 280 beats per minute, or the cadence that humans speak
syllables. The apes picked up the beat and synchronized using
the bonobo drum, Gray and psychologist Edward Large, with the
University of Connecticut, said at the annual meeting of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science.
"It's not music, but we're slowing moving in that direction,"
Related research on a rescued sea lion, which has no innate
rhythmic ability, shows that with training, it could bob its
head in time with music, said comparative psychologist Peter
Cook, who began working with Ronan the sea lion while a graduate
student at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Scientists suspect that the musical and rhythmic abilities of
humans evolved to strengthen social bonds, "so, one might think
that a common ancestor to humans and the bonobo would have some
of these capabilities," Large said.
The addition of sea lions to the list suggests that the ability
to sense rhythm may be more widespread.
Gray and Large said they would like to conduct a study on
whether bonobos in the wild synchronize with other members of
their species when they, for example, beat on hollow trees.
"That's really coordination. Now, you're talking about a social
interaction," Large said. "If your brain rhythms are literally
able to synchronize to someone else's brain rhythms, that's what
communication is potentially all about."
Gray and Large's research was conducted at the Jacksonville Zoo
and Gardens in Florida.
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