In this paper we propose the gradual audiomotor evolution hypothesis as an alternative to the vocal learning hypothesis (Patel, 2006) that was recently challenged as a pre-condition to beat perception and rhythmic entrainment (see earlier blogs on rhythmic entrainment in, e.g., chimpansees and sea lions).
The gradual audiomotor evolution hypothesis (Merchant & Honing, 2014; Honing & Merchant, in press) accommodates the fact that nonhuman primates (i.e. macaques) performance is comparable to humans in single interval tasks (such as interval reproduction, categorization, and interception), but show differences in multiple interval tasks (such as rhythmic entrainment, synchronization and continuation). Furthermore, it is in line with the observation that macaques can, apparently, synchronize in the visual domain, but show less sensitivity in the auditory domain. And finally, while macaques are sensitive to interval-based timing and rhythmic grouping, the absence of a strong coupling between the auditory and motor system of nonhuman primates might be the reason why macaques cannot rhythmically entrain in the way humans do.
|Dorsal auditory stream (light blue) and mCBGT in primates (from: Merchant & Honing, 2013).|
Functional imaging studies in humans have revealed that the motor cortico-basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical circuit (mCBGT; see Figure) is involved not only on sequential and temporal processing, but also on rhythmic behaviors such as music and dance, where the auditory modality plays a critical role. However, the mCBGT circuit seems to be less engaged in audiomotor integration in monkeys as opposed to humans. While in humans different cognitive mechanisms can be shown to be active for interval-based timing versus beat-based timing, with beat perception being dependent on distinct parts of the timing network in the brain, the anterior prefrontal CBGT and the mCBGT circuits in monkeys might be less viable to multiple interval structures, such as a regular beat.
Merchant, 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 (Pre-Print).
Honing, H., & Merchant, H. (in press). Differences in auditory timing between human and non-human primates. Behavioral and Brain Science.