Is It Too Late To Change My Thesis Project?
Prior to this weekend, I would have been slightly embarrassed to admit that I’m captivated by YouTube videos of dancing animals. There’s something about the combination of bubbly pop music and beat-bouncing pets that is irresistible to watch.
I always thought I was just a sucker for cute animals, but now, thanks to the people at NPR’s Science Friday, I can say it’s all in the name of science.
If you haven’t heard about Snowball, a boy-band loving sulfur-crested cockatoo from Indiana, and if you like the idea of grad students mining YouTube for data, then this is the viral video for you.
Three scientists from UC San Diego tracked down the avian dancing sensation after noticing that he seemed to move to the beat of a fast-paced song by the Backstreet Boys. The bird’s head bobs, his body sways, and his legs kick in what looks like an enthusiastic mating ritual, but, as the scientists conclude, is actually a deliberate and measured response to the music. In other words, not only can Snowball dance, he’s got rhythm too.
The ability to move to a musical beat is very uncommon in animals; in fact, humans (myself not included) and vocal birds (like parrots and cockatoos) seem to be the only ones that can do it. One current hypothesis suggests that vocal-learning animals are able to dance because they already have the brain circuitry in place for speech (which also relies on coordination between the ears, brain, and body).
If our ability to link sound with movement is just the happy byproduct of the brain power required for speech, then it’s likely that dogs, cats, and monkeys will never be able to dance with Snowball to the Backstreet Boys.
This is probably a good thing, though… otherwise, I’d be spending way too much time on YouTube.