Humans can’t help but move to the music and it turns out that rats have the same instinct. Without even realizing it, we move our heads along to the beat, a behavior long thought to be exclusively human. But scientists have discovered rats do the same thing. Yes, it’s true: rats have rhythm. The rodents even keep time at the same rhythm as humans, 120-140 beats per minute. So when the researchers played songs like “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga, “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen, “Beat It” by Michael Jackson, and “Sugar” by Maroon 5, along with Mozart, the rats bopped their heads along just the same as the humans in the study. Check out their dance moves in the video below.
The peer-reviewed journal Science Advances published this open access research, which we first saw on NPR. The study mentions that anecdotes about animals with rhythm have existed for years. However, this is the first scientific experiment that shows it off.
Y. Ito et al., Science Advances (2022)
Scientists started by putting accelerometers on the heads of both rats and humans. Then they played Mozart at various speeds from 75-400% of normal. At some point neither rats nor humans could keep up and head jerking decreased as the tempo of the music increased. This shows that keeping the beat is a factor of how quickly our brains can respond, which is similar across species. How quickly our bodies react, however, is wildly different. So the fact that we respond similarly to music means both humans and rats are processing it in the brain and not the body. It also indicates a genetic aspect of rhythm. Future studies could go on to investigate dancing and why some people are so bad at it.
What we’d like to see is how rats respond to the “Weird Al” Yankovic parody songs, considering three out of four modern music selections come from his catalog.
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.