Sorry Zookeepers, Chimps Don’t Care If You Play Them Music

It doesn't matter how many times you play me 'Sorry', I'm never going to like Bieber. Sharon Morris/Shutterstock

Scientists have discovered that playing music to captive chimpanzees makes absolutely no difference to their wellbeing, despite zoos often broadcasting music as a form of enrichment for the primates.

Previous studies have provided mixed results on whether music has a positive effect on the welfare of animals in a captive setting, but new research has concluded that the chimps are indifferent to the musical stimuli and that it doesn’t impact their behavior or welfare at all.

The study, led by Dr Emma Wallace from the University of York, UK, and published in PLOS One, involved offering chimpanzees at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland the opportunity to choose songs from a “jukebox” to see whether music really does positively or negatively impact their behavior, and if they even had a preferred type.

The results revealed that not only did they not show any preference between the types of music on offer – including Adele, Justin Bieber, Mozart, and Beethoven – they also didn’t show a preference for having the music on or silence, revealing they are basically indifferent to music.  

Overall, the 18 chimpanzees involved in the study did not actively avoid the indoor areas where the music was piped into, though they did tend to leave when songs with high beats per minute played. They also displayed what the paper described as “significantly” fewer social behaviors when music was playing, compared to when it was silent, though they showed no change in self-grooming or aggressive behaviors during either condition.  

“These results suggest that music is not something that is relevant to captive chimpanzees and is supported by recent work with zoo-housed orangutans that were unable to distinguish music from digitally scrambled noise,” Dr Wallace said in a statement. Instead, she proposed that the results “highlight the possibility that music appreciation is something that is a uniquely human trait.”

The welfare of captive animals in zoos and conservation parks obviously should be of the topmost priority for animal carers, so seeing them trying to provide enrichment and novel stimulation for their charges, via something like music, is encouraging.

“However, whilst music does not appear to have a positive effect on captive chimpanzee welfare, it equally did not have any negative effects,” Dr Wallace added. “As such it should not be considered a successful form of enrichment for these animals but, providing that the animals have the option to avoid it, music can still be played for animal caregivers.”

 

Our dreams that this really might spontaneously happen amongst apes have just been crushed. 

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