Paper on beat perception in monkeys accepted in Frontiers in Neuroscience

Honing, H., Bouwer, F.L., Prado, L., & Merchant, H. (2018). Rhesus Monkeys (Macaca mulatta) Sense Isochrony in Rhythm, but Not the Beat: Additional Support for the Gradual Audiomotor Evolution Hypothesis

Charles Darwin suggested the perception of rhythm to be common to all animals. While only recently experimental research is finding some support for this claim, there are also aspects of rhythm cognition that appear to be species-specific, such as the capability to perceive a regular pulse (or beat) in a varying rhythm. In the current study, using EEG, we adapted an auditory oddball paradigm that allows for disentangling the contributions of beat perception and isochrony to the temporal predictability of the stimulus. We presented two rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) with a rhythmic sequence in two versions: an isochronous version, that was acoustically accented such that it could induce a duple meter (like a march), and a jittered version using the same acoustically accented sequence but that was presented in a randomly timed fashion, as such disabling beat induction.

The results reveal that monkeys are sensitive to the isochrony of the stimulus, but not its metrical structure. The MMN was influenced by the isochrony of the stimulus, resulting in a larger MMN in the isochronous as opposed to the jittered condition. However, the MMN for both monkeys showed no interaction between metrical position and isochrony. So, while the monkey brain appears to be sensitive to the isochrony of the stimulus, we find no evidence in support of beat perception. We discuss these results in the context of the gradual audiomotor evolution (GAE) hypothesis (Merchant and Honing, 2014) that suggests beat-based timing to be omnipresent in humans but only weakly so or absent in non-human primates.

Full text

Available for open access download on the publisher’s website