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Do birds tango? Biological origins of rhythm as a carrier of emotions (210)

Principal Investigator:

Rhythm carries important affective information in human speech, music, gestures and dance. Whether this is true for non-human vocal communication is unknown.

Does birdsong bear species specific characteristics in terms of prosodic categories, like metre and rhythm and their musical correspondences, and do these parameters differ in courtship, territorial and non-communicative songs?

Using affective animal behaviors, e.g. courtship and agonistic interactions, as a proxy for "animal emotion" this project aims to first compare linguistic and musicological categories of rhythm in courtship and territorial songs of birds. We will then expand this analysis to bird courtship gestures and dances. We hypothesise that affective rhythmic manifestations in humans and non-human animals are constrained by overlapping biological mechanisms at the proximate level, i.e. of how sounds and body movements are produced and perceived. We argue that these biological constraints influence the rules of how learned vocalizations are sequentially patterned by the sender and decoded by the receiver. Given the important effects that rhythm in its different manifestations has on human emotion, we suspect that rhythm carries affective content also in animal communication.

To investigate this, we will analyze (1) whether songs of zebra finches, nightingales and butcher birds bear species-specific characteristics in terms of prosodic categories, like metre and rhythm (e.g. accentual and syllabic metres, additive, cumulative, countercumulative, endlengthening etc.) and their musical correspondences and (2) whether these parameters differ in courtship, territorial and non-communicative songs in these three species. This will contribute to our understanding of the evolution of affective communication.


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