Dancing rats shed light on the ability of animals to move to a beat, according to Scientists at the University of Tokyo. Scientists believe that the ability to pick up a beat and predict its timing is restricted only to humans. Studies have shown that even rats have this uncanny ability, which has been named “beat synchronicity.”
Scientists at the University of Tokyo wanted to find out to what extent animals could recognize a beat and move to it without training. The inspiration came from recent scientific studies that have hinted at this capability, and viral videos like this one of a parrot cutting loose to Gangnam Style. But they really wanted to get down to the basics by examining whether animals possess neural and motor capabilities of recognizing the beat in a song, much like you might tap your fingers in time to the bass line on an unfamiliar song when you first hear it.
The scientists had two ideas about the determining factors for this, with one being that the speed of physical movements (or time constant of the body), would play an important role, which differs between species. The other was that it would be determined by the speed of a brain’s responses (or time constant of the brain), which would be comparable across different species.
The scientist wanted to find out if animals have brain waves that react to music. They did an experiment where they had 10 rats and 20 humans. All the people or rodents had accelerometers in them so they could make a note of every time their heads changed positions. The scientists played one-minute excerpts with four different tempos of mostly Mozart music and found that humans, like the rats, would jerk their heads in time with the beat when it was in the 120 to 140 beats-per-minute range.
According to the study author Associate Professor Hirokazu Takahashi, “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report on innate beat synchronization in animals that was not achieved through training or musical exposure.”
He further explained, Researchers found that rodents naturally beat synchronized to a range of 120-140 beats per minute, which is also the range in which humans have shown the most consistent synchronization. This can be explained using mathematical models of the brain’s sonic sensory processing and adaptation.
Previously, scientists believed that beat synchronicity was simply a learned behavior. This new research suggests that this ability is more common among other species than we thought possible, and understanding the evolution of beat synchronicity in humans could uncover secrets about music and art.
Takahashi once mentioned that “other musical properties such as melody and harmony” have a similar effect on the brain as dynamics. He also remarked that he’s been interested in how, why, and what mechanisms of the brain create human cultural fields such as fine art, music, science, technology, and religion. Takahashi says that understanding this question is key to figuring out “how the brain works” and will lead to next-generation artificial intelligence. Takahashi has also expressed interest in using music for a happy life.