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Gibbons can rhythmically sing in a duet like humans

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Gibbons can sing rhythmically in duets. Males and females of these great apes communicate with each other using synchronized, regular sounds reminiscent of human chants, a new study shows. Studying these traits can help us figure out where musicality among humans came from.

The ability to sing rhythmically and create melodies has accompanied humans for thousands of years. So far, we have not been able to fully understand the mechanism by which musicality developed in us in the course of evolution. Published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the study suggests that we share it at least in part with some species of primates.

Male and female duets

For the study, researchers from the Netherlands, Thailand and Italy analyzed 215 “songs” sung by twelve white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar). The authors of the study identified which sounds were made by males and which were made by females, and then measured how often the sounds were repeated at regular intervals. They also checked whether male and female sounds overlapped during duets.

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The researchers found regular rhythms in all the gibbons’ “songs”, and during duets they sang more rhythmically than solos. When singing duets, male and female vocalizations overlapped 16 to 18 percent of the time, which means that the scale of synchronization is greater than if it were due to chance.

– Females sing less regularly when their “song” coincides with the “song” of the males. This shows that the rhythmicity in gibbon singing varies depending on the social context, explains Andrea Ravignani of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, co-author of the study.

White-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) – pic. illustrativeShutterstock

Important social behavior

Male and female gibbons sing in duets to define the boundaries of their territory and maintain social bonds. They are not the only primates that can make rhythmic noises – short-tailed indris also have this ability (indri indri), insectivorous cousins ​​of lemurs from Madagascar.

Henkjan Honing of the University of Amsterdam adds that evolution may have developed rhythmic abilities in primates as a means of coordinating sounds. However, it is difficult to say whether these abilities were inherited from a common ancestor or whether they appeared later as a result of independent evolutionary processes.

The authors of the study point out that due to the common elements of gibbon singing and human singing, great apes may help us get to the biological origin of musicality in humans.

Main photo source: Shutterstock



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