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Non-human animals detect the rhythmic structure of a familiar tune

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The musical motives of a song emerge from the temporal arrangement of discrete tones. These tones normally have few durational values, and are organized in structured groups to create metrical patterns. In the present study we show that the ability to detect the rhythmic structure of a song, while ignoring surface changes, is also present in other species. We familiarized rats (Rattus norvegicus) with an excerpt of the Happy Birthday song. During test, we presented the animals with (i) the same excerpt of the familiarization, (ii) a constant-pitch version of the excerpt that reduced melodic intervals to only one tone (i.e., isotonic) but preserved rhythmic structure, and (iii) a rhythmically scrambled version of the excerpt that preserved the melodic intervals. The animals discriminated the rhythmically scrambled version from the versions that preserved the original rhythm. This demonstrates that rats were sensitive to at least some parts of the rhythmic structure of the tune. Together with previous findings, the present set of results suggests that the emergence of rhythmic musical universals might be based on principles shared with other species.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Pages (from-to)694-699
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020

    Research areas

  • Comparative cognition, Rats, Rhythm, Song discrimination, Temporal perception

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