Chimpanzees like to clap their hands, tap their feet and sway along to music, with males being the more enthusiastic dancers, according to a new study.
It is hoped that a greater understanding of the predisposition of these great apes to music could shed light on how humans came to appreciate melodies.
The research by Japan’s Kyoto University looked at seven chimps who were exposed to six two-minute piano compositions for six days.
It found they had a definite sense of rhythm and while while the music was being played, they swayed their bodies and bobbed their heads and, sometimes, went as far as clapping their hands and tapping their feet.
The team also found that male chimpanzees were more likely to respond to the tunes by being more vocal and swaying rhythmically for longer durations compared with their female counterparts.
In their paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Pnas), the researchers Dr Yuko Hattori and professor Masaki Tomonaga noted: “Given that humans do not have such a sex difference in musical ability, higher sensitivity to sound in male chimpanzees may have been acquired after chimpanzees diverged from the common ancestor shared with humans.
“This may also be associated with their patriarchal society, where male chimpanzees often collaborate to protect their territory and group members.”
To understand more about their musical inclination, the researchers selected the chimpanzee most responsive to the music.
They then exposed the animal, called Akira, to additional musical sessions, with four two-minute experiences for 24 days.
The researchers found that both random and regular beats induced rhythmic swaying in Akira.
The movements were more pronounced when Akira was standing on two feet rather than on all fours.
In addition, Akira also stayed longer in the area where music was playing, indicating that the chimpanzee actively sought musical stimulation.
According to the authors, the findings point to a foundation for dancing in a common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans.
The team wrote in the paper: “In humans, listening to music induces rhythmic movement, suggesting a close connection between the auditory and motor areas in the brain.
“These results suggest that prerequisites for music and dance are deeply rooted and existed in the common ancestor shared by humans and chimpanzees, approximately six million years ago.”