Until now, vocal mimicry—what we might call the ability to sing along—has been held to be necessary for beat matching in non-human animals; but Ronan, a California sea lion, is helping scientists to determine what actually happens when we get our groove on.
In a series of experiments, Ronan learned to bob to the beats of three different pop and rock songs. To make certain the effect was real, a metronome that skipped beats was added. Ronan kept right on going, and proved capable of handling both novel tempos and complex musical stimuli; in other words, capable of flexible entrainment.
The results challenge current paradigms on the roles of vocal mimicry, spontaneity, and social learning in entrainment, and raise the possibility that the ability to learn beat matching may be widespread in the animal kingdom.
This according to “California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) can keep the beat: Motor entrainment to rhythmic auditory stimuli in a non vocal mimic” by Peter F Cook, Andrew Rouse, Margaret L. Wilson, and Colleen Reichmuth (Journal of comparative psychology 1 April 2013, pp. 7–16.
Above, Ronan with her trainer, Peter Cook; below, Ronan gets down to Boogie Wonderland and other pop hits.
- Sea lion is first non-human mammal shown to keep a beat (4goodnews.wordpress.com)
- California sea lion can keep the beat (kfwbam.com)