A California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) can keep the beat: motor entrainment to rhythmic auditory stimuli in a non vocal mimic

J Comp Psychol. 2013 Nov;127(4):412-27. doi: 10.1037/a0032345. Epub 2013 Apr 1.


Is the ability to entrain motor activity to a rhythmic auditory stimulus, that is "keep a beat," dependent on neural adaptations supporting vocal mimicry? That is the premise of the vocal learning and synchronization hypothesis, recently advanced to explain the basis of this behavior (A. Patel, 2006, Musical Rhythm, Linguistic Rhythm, and Human Evolution, Music Perception, 24, 99-104). Prior to the current study, only vocal mimics, including humans, cockatoos, and budgerigars, have been shown to be capable of motoric entrainment. Here we demonstrate that a less vocally flexible animal, a California sea lion (Zalophus californianus), can learn to entrain head bobbing to an auditory rhythm meeting three criteria: a behavioral response that does not reproduce the stimulus; performance transfer to a range of novel tempos; and entrainment to complex, musical stimuli. These findings show that the capacity for entrainment of movement to rhythmic sounds does not depend on a capacity for vocal mimicry, and may be more widespread in the animal kingdom than previously hypothesized.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Female
  • Movement / physiology
  • Music
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Sea Lions / physiology*
  • Sea Lions / psychology
  • Time Factors