Rhythm Slaves: Rats Can’t Resist a Good Rhythm, Researchers Say | Science


Music makes you lose control, Missy Elliott once sang on a hit that’s almost impossible to hear without taking the plunge. Now, scientists have discovered that rats also find rhythmic beats irresistible, showing how they instinctively move to the beat of music.

The ability was previously thought to be uniquely human and scientists say the discovery provides insight into the animal spirit and the origins of music and dance.

“The rats displayed innate synchronization – that is, without any prior training or exposure to music –,” said Dr Hirokazu Takahashi from the University of Tokyo.

“Music exerts a strong pull on the brain and has profound effects on emotion and cognition,” he added.

Although there have been previous demonstrations of animals dancing to music — TikTok has a wealth of examples — the study is one of the first scientific investigations into the phenomenon.

In the study, published in the journal Science Advances, 10 rats were fitted with miniature wireless accelerometers to measure the slightest head movements. They were then played one-minute excerpts from Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, at four different tempos: 75%, 100%, 200% and 400% of the original speed. Twenty human volunteers also participated.

Scientists thought it was possible that the rats preferred faster music because their bodies, including the heartbeat, worked at a faster rate. In contrast, the time constant of the brain is surprisingly similar across species.

However, the results showed that the rats and human participants had optimal beat synchronicity when the music was between 120 and 140 beats per minute (bpm) – close to the original 132 bpm of Mozart’s composition – suggesting that we share a “sweet spot” to hit the beat. The team also found that rats and humans shook their heads in time with the beat at a similar rate, and that the level of head shaking decreased the faster the music was.

“Our results suggest that the optimal tempo for beat synchronization depends on the time constant in the brain,” Takahashi said.

The team now plans to investigate how other musical properties such as melody and harmony relate to brain dynamics. “Also, as an engineer, I’m interested in using music for a happy life,” Takahashi said.


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