Music perception and octave generalization in rhesus monkeys

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2000 Sep;129(3):291-307. doi: 10.1037//0096-3445.129.3.291.


Two rhesus monkeys were tested for octave generalization in 8 experiments by transposing 6- and 7-note musical passages by an octave and requiring same or different judgments. The monkeys showed no octave generalization to random-synthetic melodies, atonal melodies, or individual notes. They did show complete octave generalization to childhood songs (e.g., "Happy Birthday") and tonal melodies (from a tonality algorithm). Octave generalization was equally strong for 2-octave transpositions but not for 0.5- or 1.5-octave transpositions of childhood songs. These results combine to show that tonal melodies form musical gestalts for monkeys, as they do for humans, and retain their identity when transposed with whole octaves so that chroma (key) is preserved. This conclusion implicates similar transduction, storage, processing, and relational memory of musical passages in monkeys and humans and has implications for nature-nurture origins of music perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Generalization, Psychological*
  • Macaca mulatta / psychology*
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Music*
  • Practice, Psychological
  • Reinforcement, Psychology