Monday, November 19, 2007

Is beat induction special? (Part 2)

Rhythmic behavior in non-human animals, such as chimpanzees, has been studied quite regularly. The video below is a nice illustration of how chimpanzees can use tools in a rhythmic, periodic fashion. Other researchers have shown that some apes are even capable of regularly tapping a drum. However, they seem unable to beat a drum—or rhythmically move or dance, for that matter— in synchrony to music, like a human would be able to do.

Hence the big surprise of the video below. A YouTube video that attracted quite some media attention in the US. What do you think? Evidence for beat induction (*) in animals?

The ultimate test is to do an experiment in which the speed (or tempo) of the music is systematically controlled for, to be able to answer the crucial question: will the Cockatoo dance slightly faster if the music is presented slightly faster?

I would be flabbergasted if that would be the case, since for a long time beat induction was considered a human trait, which I argued —along with some colleagues— to be essential to the origins of music in humans.

Currently, a North-American research group tries to find out. I'll keep you posted.

* Beat induction is the process in which a regular isochronous pattern (the beat) is activated while listening to music. This beat, often tapped along by musicians, is a central issue in time keeping in music performance. But also for non-experts the process seems to be fundamental to the processing, coding and appreciation of temporal patterns. The induced beat carries the perception of tempo and is the basis of temporal coding of temporal patterns. Furthermore, it determines the relative importance of notes in, for example, the melodic and harmonic structure.

Desain, P., Honing, H. (1999). Computational Models of Beat Induction: The Rule-Based Approach.. Journal of New Music Research, 28(1), 29-42.


  1. It would very much depend on what is triggering the action. I feel without (at the very least) multiple trials with different styles of music, we cannot make any hard conclusions.

    Great blog (I'm working on related problems)

    What do you think?

    Brit Cruise

  2. Assuming no visual cues, then yes, I would say it's at least good prima facie evidence of beat induction. Many a human can't keep a beat that well!

  3. Henkjan,

    Have you connected with the research being done at the Music Research Institute at the University of North Carolin at Greensboro (UNCG) - Dr Patricia Gray. She would want to challenge your findings based on her extensive research (complete with video!) with a certain type of ape (can't recall their name).

    Please can you RSS feed your blog so I can track any updates you make.

    I am currently researching the connection between music and leadership (and like you not at the ice breaking or quiz show level) in order to develop a sound based (I am not restricting it to human composed music) tool for faciltating leadership development.

    David Magellan Horth

    Center for Creative Leadership
    Greensboro, NC

  4. RSS feed (atom) is referenced on the home page of the blog.

  5. Great post. Your site is quite interesting and very well written. I am waiting for your next post

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