Curiosities About Rats and Music

Animals may be able to respond to sounds, emit vocalizations or move to musical rhythms. Let's see 5 curious facts about rats and music.
Curiosities About Rats and Music
Georgelin Espinoza Medina

Written and verified by the biologist Georgelin Espinoza Medina.

Last update: 03 February, 2023

Most human beings like music. It’s used to express different thoughts, feelings, and situations and is even used as therapy. The melodies and different combinations of sounds relax, cheer up, let off steam, and get people dancing. However, following the rhythm can be a bit complicated for some people, but what about animals? Don’t miss our curiosities about rats and music – you’ll be amazed!

We think that only humans are able to synchronize with music. Other animals are less developed in this respect, although there’s also a lack of research in this area. Last year, however, there was some research into the relationship between rats and music, and we’ll bring you the findings! Don’t miss it!

1. Rats have musical rhythm synchronization

Rats and music.

Although it may seem a little hard to believe, rats can follow musical rhythm. This is explained in a study published in November last year, in the journal Science Advances

The study evaluated the physical and neural movements of 10 rats by means of small wireless accelerometers attached to their heads. The measurements were performed for 3 consecutive days. The musical stimulus was a Mozart sonata in 4 different tempos. The response was also recorded in 20 people, in order to make comparisons with the data obtained in the rodents.

The rats moved their heads in synchronization with the music and the shaking was recorded by the accelerometer.

In addition, the movements are more noticeable with the animals standing on two legs, i.e. in a bipedal position. This is in contrast to what happens when they’re standing on their four limbs.

2. The musical synchronization of rats is innate

The most interesting thing about the relationship between rats and music is that their head movements are performed spontaneously, without having trained them to do so. This reveals that these rodents possess an innate synchronization to melodies and is apparently one of the first reports about animals with this ability.

Other studies have shown this behavior, but through training or previous exposure to a musical environment. This occurs in sea lions, domestic horses, primates, and birds. However, this discovery shows that we are similar to rats in this area; they follow the musical rhythm spontaneously, just as we humans do.

3. The preferred musical rhythm for rats is between 120 and 140 beats per minute

The rats shook their heads to the melodies, but had a preference for a certain range of beats. In particular, it was in music ranging between 120 and 140 beats per minute, in which most musical compositions are found. This is within this value that humans also show better affinity.

4. Head shaking in rats to music is greater than in humans

Head movements generated from musical stimuli in rats occur more than in humans, in fact it’s up to ten times more. This is due to their smaller head mass.

5. Rats move their heads to different styles of music

A rat.

Apart from Mozart’s piece, other songs were used in the study on rats’ synchronization to music. Artists such as Lady Gaga, Maroon 5, Queen, and Michael Jackson were part of the research. The chosen songs were played twice and randomly through loudspeakers. These were as follows:

  • Sonata for two pianos (K.448) by Mozart
  • Born this way by Lady Gaga
  • Another one bites the dust by Queen
  • Beat it by Michael Jackson
  • Sugar by Maroon 5

The rats moved their heads to the rhythm of both classical and modern music.

So, these are our 5 curiosities about rats and music. We see that animals have many talents. They can react to sound stimuli, emit different types of vocalizations (some quite melodious), or receive training to respond to a musical rhythm. They also surprise us with their innate synchronization in which neural processes work together with motor processes.

Furthermore, these interesting findings show us some capabilities that animals have that we didn’t know about until now. Undoubtedly, much remains to be discovered on this subject and future research may investigate the origins of music and dance on the evolutionary scale.

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  • Ito, Y., Shiramatsu, T., Ishida, N., Oshima, K., Magami, K., & Takahashi, H. (2022). Spontaneous beat synchronization in rats: neural dynamics and motor entrainment. Science Advance, 8, eabo7019.
  • Patel, A. (2014). The evolutionary biology of musical rhythm: was Darwin wrong? PLOS Biology, 12(5), e1001873.
  • Patel, A., Iversen, J., Bregman, M., & Schulz, I. (2009). Studying synchronization to a musical beat in nonhuman animals. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1169, 459–469.
  • Wilson, M., & Cook, P. (2016). Rhythmic entrainment: why humans want to, fireflies can’t help it, pet birds try, and sea lions have to be bribed. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 23(6), 1647–1659.

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