Metallica fans are monkeys

Madison (WI) – Monkeys prefer heavy metal to classical music, say researchers at the University of Wisconsin.

Scientists played a selection of music to a group of cottontop tamarind monkeys but the only tunes that got a reaction were from veteran metallers, Metallica. They turned their noses up at Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis and Bach, which suggests their musical tastes are just as unsophisticated as those of most heavy metal fans.

Strangely, the dulcet tones of Master of Puppets calmed the tamarinds down.

Researchers found that 30-second music clips based on real monkey calls conveying danger and safety provoked the strongest reaction. The monkeys reacted to the music in the same way they would to real calls.

The study, by Charles Snowdon, a professor of psychology at UW-Madison, and musician David Teie of the University of Maryland published this week in Biology Letters, reports that for five minutes after hearing ‘fear’ music, the monkeys displayed symptoms of anxiety and increased their movement. In contrast, monkeys that heard ‘affiliative’ music reduced their movements and increased their feeding behavior – both signs of a calming effect.

Teie wrote the music using specific features he spotted in the monkeys’ calls, such as rising or falling pitches, and the duration of various sounds, says Snowdon, who notes that monkeys are not the only ones who use musical elements to convey emotional content in speech. Studies show that babies that are too young to understand words can still interpret a long tone and a descending pitch as soothing, and a short tone as inhibiting.

“We use legato with babies to calm them,” says Snowdon. “We use staccato to order them to stop. Approval has a rising tone, and soothing has a decreasing tone. We add musical features to speech so it will influence the affective state of a baby. If you bark out, ‘PLAY WITH IT,’ a baby will freeze. The voice, the intonation pattern, the musicality, can matter more than the words.

“My talking does not necessarily tell you about my emotional state. When I add extra elements, change the tone of voice, the rhythm, pitch or speed, that is where the emotional content is contained.”

Let’s hope the monkeys don’t start illegally downloading Metallica tracks – we all remember what happened last time someone tried that.