Chimpanzees Prefer African and Indian Music

Chimpanzees prefer African and Indian music

by Katie Collins

The rhythms of Indian and African tunes are music to the ears of chimpanzees, according to a new study published by a research team from Emory University.

Previous research has established that chimps would rather be in silence than listen to Western music and that they generally prefer slower tempos, but the new research published by the American Psychological Association has revealed that they actively enjoy music from Africa and India. Although it has long been established that non-human primates can easily distinguish between musical properties such as rhythm, these are the first findings that suggest the primates may in fact have a preference for different types of rhythmical patterns.

In order to establish this, researchers played music near to the chimpanzee enclosures and found that they were more likely to spend time in the areas where they would be able to hear the music when African and Indian songs were playing. When Japanese music was played, however, they tended to move to areas where it was difficult or impossible to hear the music. “Our objective was not to find a preference for different cultures’ music. We used cultural music from Africa, India and Japan to pinpoint specific acoustic properties,” said study co-author Frans de Waal.

Unlike Japanese music, which tends to possess regular strong beats, much like Western music, African and Indian music tends to have extreme ratios of strong to weak beats.

“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.

Sixteen chimpanzees housed separately in two groups were exposed to 40 minutes of music. The proximity of each of the chimps to the speaker was recorded every two minutes and compared to the positions of a control group. Western music was not used in the test as previous exposure may have biased the results.

In the study, the researchers point out that: “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.”

You can read the full study, published by the American Psychological Association in the  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, here.

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