Chimpanzees spontaneously dance to music

Sound also induces rhythmic swaying in chimpanzees.

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Music and dance are all universal across human culture and have an ancient history. One characteristic of music is its strong effect on movement. In humans, listening to music induces rhythmic movement, suggesting a close connection between the auditory and motor areas in the brain.

In this new study, scientists from Kyoto University have determined if sound-induced spontaneous rhythmic movement in chimpanzees. The outcomes demonstrated that chimpanzees would spontaneously dance to music.

Scientists tried to teach an adult female to keep a beat during the experiment, but that experiment didn’t go according to plan. Scientists noticed that another nearby chimp would start to dance whenever they played music.

Fascinatingly, when scientists played music to a group of chimps, they found that all chimps responded to the music by moving in dance-like ways—though the degree to which they danced significantly varied between them. By and large, they found that the chimp tended to dance more than the females. They likewise found that the chimps had various moves—some influenced, some knocked on the walls of their enclosure, and one even tapped her foot. They additionally noticed that some of the males hooted alongside the music.

To learn more about dancing with chimps, scientists isolated one of them—a male called Akira. He was chosen because he danced the most among those the team was studying.

He was subjected to periods of piano music with a repetitive bass note for 24 days. He was also subjected to random notes to determine if he was responding to the music or the beat. Akira danced whenever music was played regardless of its tempo—and he danced just as much.

Although scientists could not explain why music made the chimps dance, they suggest further study could help learn about the evolution of dance in humans.

Rhythmic swaying in bipedal (upright) posture
Rhythmic swaying in a quadrupedal posture
Partial body rhythmic movement (hand clapping)
Partial body rhythmic movement (foot tapping)

Journal Reference

  1. Yuko Hattori and Masaki Tomonaga, Rhythmic swaying induced by sound in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). PNAS January 14, 2020 117 (2) 936-942; first published December 23, 2019; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1910318116