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Can Your Pet Really Respond to Music Like You Do?


In order to test his theory about what moves humans emotionally when we hear music, composer and cellist David Teie set out to see if he could write music that would elicit a response from a non-human.

Teie suspects people react on a subconscious level to music reminiscent of the most primitive sounds we make and respond to, such as laughter or a beating heart.

Teie teamed up with Chuck Snowdon, a professor at the University of Wisconsin who happens to have a colony of cotton-top tamarin monkeys in his care. Monkeys don’t respond to music written for humans, and these tamarins were no different.

Snowden sent Teie recordings of the tamarins when they were upset and when they were calm. Teie used the recordings to compose music reflective of the sounds the monkeys made as they experienced different emotions.

Back in the lab, Professor Snowdon played Teie’s compositions for the tamarins and reported that it certainly seems the tamarins responded to the music. Their moods and behavior changed depending on which piece Snowdon played for them.

Detractors say it’s impossible to know whether the tamarins responded to the musical elements of Teie’s composition, or simply to the monkey-like sounds that were also part of the recordings.

Click here to listen to the music recordings.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

Have you ever tried to explain to someone what it is about a piece of music that moves you? If you’re like me, you’ve found your reaction to certain songs nearly impossible to put into words.

What’s fascinating to me about the tamarin experiment is it seems to bring us a bit closer to understanding what it is about music that causes us to respond so automatically and at such a primal level.

Of course, the question of whether other species respond to music or simply the noise of music may forever go unanswered. Research does seem to indicate non-human animals aren’t impressed by our music.

On the flip side, stories abound from pet owners, zookeepers, ranch hands and animal handlers of every persuasion that the creatures in their care do indeed respond – often in miraculous ways -- to music written by humans, for humans.

My opinion? Do what works for you – in your home with your dog or cat, in your aviary, on your ranch or farm or wherever you tend to the animals in your care.

If your pet or herd or flock seems to respond to human music then by all means, let the music play!

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