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Rats (literally) love dancing to Lady Gaga, study shows

Researchers placed wireless accelerometers on 10 rodents and recorded their motions that would ordinarily be invisible to the naked eye

SHARE Rats (literally) love dancing to Lady Gaga, study shows
A rat crosses a Times Square subway platform in New York on Jan. 27, 2015.

A rat crosses a Times Square subway platform in New York on Jan. 27, 2015.

Richard Drew, Associated Press

Everyone loves to dance, even rats. A study published in Science Advance found that rodents loved bopping their heads to music by Lady Gaga, Queen and Mozart.

The animals can keep up with the beat — an ability that only humans, and a few other animals like cockatoos, were previously known to possess, researchers found.

“Rats displayed innate — that is, without any training or prior exposure to music — beat synchronization most distinctly within 120-140 bpm (beats per minute), to which humans also exhibit the clearest beat synchronization,” said University of Tokyo associate professor Hirokazu Takahashi, who was a part of the study, according to a press release.

Why play music to rats in the first place? Well, the goal of the study was to find a neurological connection between music and its emotional and cognitive effects, Takahashi explained.

“I am also a specialist of electrophysiology, which is concerned with electrical activity in the brain, and have been studying the auditory cortex of rats for many years,” he added, per the release.

Researchers placed wireless accelerometers on 10 rodents and recorded their motions that would ordinarily be invisible to the naked eye. The rats listened to snippets of “Sonata for Two Pianos” by Mozart, “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga, “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen, “Beat It” by Michael Jackson and “Sugar” by Maroon 5 at four different tempos, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The study also included 20 human participants.

Scientists hypothesized that rats would prefer faster music because of their fast heat beats, as Guardian’s Hannah Devlin reported. But the study found that the time constant of the brain — the pulse it takes for the neurological organ to respond — is alike across species.

“This demonstrates that the animal brain can be useful in elucidating the perceptual mechanisms of music,” Takahashi said.

However, Henkjan Honing, a musical scholar at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, who wasn’t involved in the study, criticized the methods of research. The rats may be moving because they are startled by the music, he told The Wall Street Journal.

The research will, instead, have to demonstrate that these rodents anticipate the beat instead of only responding to it.

As for Takahashi, his next mission is to explore the correlation between musical properties, such as melody, and the brain.

“I am also interested in how, why and what mechanisms of the brain create human cultural fields such as fine art, music, science, technology and religion,” said Takahashi, per the release. “I believe that this question is the key to understand how the brain works and develop the next-generation AI (artificial intelligence). Also, as an engineer, I am interested in the use of music for a happy life.”