Rats prefer when Mozart is played at the right tempo
If appreciating this or that music is often a matter of taste, there is something irresistible in certain rhythms which, in everyone, makes their feet pound or to wiggle. This temptation, sought after by composers, has a scientific explanation: when they listen to tracks ranging from 120 to 140 beats per minute (BPM), humans instinctively synchronize their movements more easily. Thus many pieces of pop or rock or pieces of classical music played allegro would be more catchy because they fit into that range of tempos.
What about animals? Do they have preferences and where would they come from? Japanese researchers have looked into the matter. In a study published Friday in the journal Scientists progressthey explain that they played Mozart to rats, and found that they were sensitive to the same rhythms as us. A conclusion that was far from obvious.
Queen and Lady Gaga in the ears
Because two hypotheses are in balance. One is that humans sync more naturally to 120 BPM tracks, because that rhythm matches the rhythm of our walking and our perception of time. The preferred tempo would then vary from one species to another, because it would depend on the frequency of the animal’s steps and therefore on its weight.
The other hypothesis predicts that the “magical” tempo is, on the contrary, common to all species and rather depends on a constant in neuronal activity which would have been perpetuated despite evolution. In the light of the new study, it is this last track that would prevail.
In order to decide between these two options, the researchers made rats listen to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sonata for two pianos, played at different tempos, from 99 BPM to 528 BPM. The neural activity of the rodents and their head movements showed that they were much more receptive to the original tempo, that of 132 BPM.
As part of the experiment, the rats also had the opportunity to listen to popular songs: Born This Way by Lady Gaga, Another One Bites the Dust by Queen, Beat It by Michael Jackson and Sugar by Maroon 5. The scientists announce that further studies comparing human and animal behavior “will offer insight into the origins of music and dance.”