Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Can a Bonobo keep the beat?

Kuni and daughter, Kenge
(from Large & Gray, 2015).
Last year I wrote about an exciting new finding that was announced in a press release, but that unfortunately turned out not to be published as yet (see [1]). Last week the study finally appeared in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, along with a new press release that nuanced the earlier claims, but that is still very exciting. In the study Large & Gray (2015) assessed spontaneous and synchronized drumming tempo in a female bonobo (Kuni) who self-selected to participate in joint drumming with a human drummer.
NRC 28.11.2015

The study appears to be a demonstration that a bonobo can temporally coordinate rhythmic movements with another drummer,  "restricted to certain trials and certain individual episodes" and at an average of 270 BPM (!) (Large & Gray, 2015). As such, it is one of an increasing number of studies that suggests beat perception and synchronization not to be restricted to species that are vocal mimics (cf. Patel, 2006), but a capability that is more widely dispersed across species, and that might have gradually evolved in primates (Merchant & Honing, 2014). Nevertheless, the authors note – quite rightly – that the extent to which this synchronization depends on visual (i.e., observing the human drummer’s arm movements) versus auditory rhythm information remains an open question. Their are currently several groups working on this topic and I’m sure a more complete picture will be available soon on this intriguing and fundamental musical skill.

ResearchBlogging.orgLarge, E., & Gray, P. (2015). Spontaneous tempo and rhythmic entrainment in a bonobo (Pan paniscus). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 129 (4), 317-328 DOI: 10.1037/com0000011

ResearchBlogging.orgMerchant, H., & Honing, H. (2014). Are non-human primates capable of rhythmic entrainment? Evidence for the gradual audiomotor evolution hypothesis. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 7 (274) 1-8. doi 10.3389/fnins.2013.00274