Japan  is odd: Researchers discover that rats nod to the rhythm of Lady Gaga

At the Tokyo University in Japan, researchers had discovered that rats can pick out the tempo of a song and nod their heads in time to the beat. They bop to songs by Queen, Mozart and Lady Gaga.

Professor Hirokazu Takahashi and his team conducted a new study of “beat synchronization”. They found that rats can pick out the beat in a piece of music in the same way humans can and move in time to it, even if they have never heard before.

He fitted ten laboratory rats with wireless miniature accelerometers that could measure the slightest head movements , and recruited human participants who were a larger version of the same device.

The rats were monitored as the Takahashi’s’ researchers played Lady Gaga’ Both This Way, Queen’s Another One Bites the Dust, Michael Jackson’s Beat It, Maroon 5’s Sugar and Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K448 at four different tempos.

According to Professor Takahashi: ”To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report on innate beat synchronization in animals that was not achieved through training or musical exposure.”

One-minute excerpts from five pieces were played at four different tempos—25 per cent slower, the original tempo, twice as fast and four times the original speed. The accelerometer measures whether the humans and rats moved in response to the music.

The results showed  that the rats’ beat synchronization was clearest in the range of 120-140 beats per minute. The team also found that both rats and humans jerked their heads to the beat in a similar rhythm. Professor Takahashi said: ”rats displayed innate—that is, without any training or prior exposure to music—beat synchronization ,most distinctly within 120-140 beats per minute, to which also humans exhibit the clearest beat dyssynchronization.

The optimal nodding tempo was found to depend on the time constant in the brain—the speed at which it can respond to something—which is similar across species. This means that auditory and motor systems’ ability to interact  and move to music maybe widespread in animal.

What next?

The researchers have stated that they want to reveal how other musical properties such as melody and harmony relate to the dynamics of the brain, as understanding how music stimulates the brain may help scientists uncover how it can be used to trigger an emotional response.

“I am also interested in how, why and what mechanisms of the brain create human cultural fields such as fine art, music, science, technology and religion,” Professor Takahashi said.

Professor Takahashi said he and his team also believe that their results could eventually lead to the creation of AI music that can sync more easily with the brain.

“I believe that this question is the key to understand how the brain works and develop the next-generation AI. Also, as an engineer, I am interested in the use of music for a happy life.”

About Professor Hirokazu Takahashi  

He is Associate Professor, Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo

Professor Hirokazu Takahashi received B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Tokyo in 1998, 2000, and 2003, respectively. After working as a research associate at Department of Engineering Synthesis, the University of Tokyo, and as an assistant professor at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, he has been an associate professor at Department of Mechano-Informatics, the University of Tokyo, since 2019. His current research interests include areas of biomedical engineering ranging from rehabilitation engineering for restoring lost functions to experimental neurophysiology for understanding fundamental brain functions. 


The Times London, November 12th, 2022