Rats Can Keep Beat to Mozart, Queen and Lady Gaga Songs, New Study Finds

"The rats were in-sync with the music and seemed to show some level of predictive processing"

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Nov 16, 2022

A new study shows that rats have rhythm, possessing the ability to accurately move their bodies in time to a musical beat — a trait previously thought to be uniquely human.

Conducted and published by the University of Tokyo, the study found that rats' beat synchronicity — one's neural and motor ability to recognize the beat in a song and move to it in accurate time — came from the time constant (defined by the study as "the speed at which our brains can respond to something") of their brains, as opposed to their bodies, when played selections by Mozart, Queen, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson and Maroon 5.

"This means that the ability of our auditory and motor systems to interact and move to music may be more widespread among species than previously thought," the study determines. "This new discovery offers not only further insight into the animal mind, but also into the origins of our own music and dance."

The study was conducted with 20 humans and 10 rats, with head movements measured by having the latter subjects fitted with miniature, wireless accelerometers, and the former fitted with accelerometers attached to headphones.

Researchers played their subjects one-minute excerpts from Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K. 448, at four different tempos. Knowing the piece's original tempo to be 132 BPM (beats per minute), results showed that the beat synchronicity of the rats "was clearest within the 120-140 BPM range."

The study also found that both rats and humans "jerked their heads to the beat in a similar rhythm, and that the level of head jerking decreased the more that the music was sped up."

Of course, the study made sure to take note of findings using some more contemporary musical stimuli, treating participants to the pumped-up, anthemic "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga, the eternal groove of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and Maroon 5's "Sugar."

The University of Tokyo has published a pair of GIFs alongside the study, giving a look at both rats and humans in testing action. "Further studies are needed to confirm whether rats can predict beats too," reads a caption. "But in this study at least, the rats were in-sync with the music and seemed to show some level of predictive processing."

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report on innate beat synchronization in animals that was not achieved through training or musical exposure," said Hirokazu Takahashi, associate professor of the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology at the University of Tokyo.

We're already wondering how the rats would react if they were played Dan Deacon's score to vermin-themed doc Rat Film.

"Next, I would like to reveal how other musical properties such as melody and harmony relate to the dynamics of the brain," Takahashi concludes. "I am also interested in how, why and what mechanisms of the brain create human cultural fields such as fine art, music, science, technology and religion. I believe that this question is the key to understand how the brain works and develop the next-generation AI (artificial intelligence). Also, as an engineer, I am interested in the use of music for a happy life."

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