Rhesus monkeys can't get with the beat

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A word to the wise: never, ever, take a rhesus monkey out clubbing - it'll dance more embarrassingly than your dad.

A team of neurobiologists says that the species completely lacks the ability to pick up the beat in music. It's something human beings can do from infancy, showing it's congenital, and not a learned behavior.

In their research, the team used the same stimuli and experimental paradigms from previous research conducted on humans and babies, measuring electrical brain signals using electrodes while the participants were listening.

And, they found, while the monkeys could detect rhythmic groups in music, they couldn't hear the beat at all, making them absolutely lousy at line dancing.

Or, as the researchers put it: "These findings are in support of the hypothesis that beat induction (the cognitive mechanism that supports the perception of a regular pulse from a varying rhythm) is species-specific, and it is likely restricted to vocal learners such as a selected group of bird species, while absent in nonhuman primates such as rhesus monkeys."

The results are in line with the vocal learning hypothesis, which suggests that only species who can mimic sounds share the ability of beat induction. While these species include several types of bird and mammal, nonhuman primates mostly seem to lack it.

And they also support the dissociation hypothesis, which claims that there's a dissociation between rhythm perception and beat perception. They suggest that humans share rhythm perception, or duration-based timing, with other primates, while beat-based timing is only present in a few, arguably through convergent evolution.