Snowball: Birds Can Dance to Music, Researchers Say
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
Posted: May 3rd, 2009
After studying a cockatoo that grooves to the Backstreet Boys and about 1,000 YouTube videos, scientists say they've documented for the first time that some animals "dance" to a musical beat. The results support a theory for why the human brain is wired for dancing. In lab studies of two parrots and close review of the YouTube videos, scientists looked for signs that animals were actually feeling the beat of music they heard. The verdict: Some parrots did, and maybe an occasional elephant. But researchers found no evidence of that for dogs and cats, despite long exposure to people and music, nor for chimps, our closest living relatives. Why? The truly boppin' animals shared with people some ability to mimic sounds they hear, the researchers say. The brain circuitry for that ability lets people learn to talk, and evidently also to dance or tap their toes to music, suggests Aniruddh Patel of the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego. He proposed the music connection in 2006. He also led a study of Snowball that was published online Thursday by the journal Current Biology. A separate YouTube study, also published Thursday by the journal, was led by Adena Schachner, a graduate student in psychology at Harvard University. In sum, the new research "definitely gives us a bit of insight into why and how humans became able to dance," Schachner said. A video of Snowball bobbing his head and kicking like a little Rockette to music has been viewed more than 2 million times on YouTube since it was posted in 2007. Snowball's movements followed the beat of his favorite Backstreet Boys song ... even when researchers sped up the tune and slowed it down.
Note: To watch videos of Snowball dancing to the Backstreet Boys and Huey Lewis, click here.