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Animals Finally Respond to Music: It Just Has to be Written for Their Species!

Animal Communication, Arts, News Add comments

Fascinating discovery of the day: music written for monkeys, based on their vocalizations, finally triggers a notable response.  What follows is straight from the website of the composer, who also makes music for cats.  You can hear an NPR story on the monkey research here.

Many previous experiments on animal response to music composed for humans (hereinafter, “human music”) have been conducted, but none of these studies had demonstrated significant responses. Very recently a study of the effect of human music on cotton-topped tamarin monkeys was conducted at Harvard. The tamarins showed a slight preference for Mozart over German “techno” music, but preferred silence to either. This study was consistent with the findings of all previous studies: animals are largely indifferent to human music.

We performed tests at the University of Wisconsin on the same species of tamarins. As with all previous studies, the tamarins showed a lack of interest in the human music. By contrast, the effect on them of the species-specific music composed by David Teie was remarkably clear and convincing. They displayed a marked increase of activity in response to the music that was designed to excite them, while the “tamarin ballad” music induced a significant calming. This calming effect was measured against the baseline of silence; they moved and vocalized less and orientated more toward the audio speakers during and immediately following the playing of the tamarin ballad.

Following are quotes from a research paper about these experiments that will soon be submitted for publication. The psychologist Charles Snowdon, who conducted the testing and authored these statements, is a highly respected but extremely cautious and skeptical scientist not normally given to making sweeping statements: “Our predictions were supported. Music composed for tamarins had a much greater effect on the behavior of tamarins than music composed for humans. …tamarins displayed significant behavioral change only to the music that was specifically composed for them and were unaffected by human music.”

To the best of our knowledge, this marks the first time that an art form has been shown by scientific test and observation to engender the measurable appreciation of any species other than human. (Ed. note: true, little science has been done; yet there have been some compelling examples of animals themselves enjoying doing art: the painting gorillas and Thai Elephant Orchestra come quickly to mind.)

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