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Curr Biol. 2009 May 26;19(10):827-30. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.03.038. Epub 2009 Apr 30.

Experimental evidence for synchronization to a musical beat in a nonhuman animal.

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The Neurosciences Institute, 10640 John Jay Hopkins Drive, San Diego, CA 92121, USA.

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  • Curr Biol. 2009 May 26;19(10):880.


The tendency to move in rhythmic synchrony with a musical beat (e.g., via head bobbing, foot tapping, or dance) is a human universal [1] yet is not commonly observed in other species [2]. Does this ability reflect a brain specialization for music cognition, or does it build on neural circuitry that ordinarily serves other functions? According to the "vocal learning and rhythmic synchronization" hypothesis [3], entrainment to a musical beat relies on the neural circuitry for complex vocal learning, an ability that requires a tight link between auditory and motor circuits in the brain [4, 5]. This hypothesis predicts that only vocal learning species (such as humans and some birds, cetaceans, and pinnipeds, but not nonhuman primates) are capable of synchronizing movements to a musical beat. Here we report experimental evidence for synchronization to a beat in a sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita eleonora). By manipulating the tempo of a musical excerpt across a wide range, we show that the animal spontaneously adjusts the tempo of its rhythmic movements to stay synchronized with the beat. These findings indicate that synchronization to a musical beat is not uniquely human and suggest that animal models can provide insights into the neurobiology and evolution of human music [6].

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