Usually when thinking about music, we consider it a wholly human experience. Very rarely do we consider our auditory overload on other animals. However, luckily in the scientific world there are a few nutty professors willing to don on their lab coats to find out exactly that.
It has recently been discovered that goldfish, or if you want to impress your friends, carassius auratus, have the ability to recognise complex sounds. These little beauties which can be found at all good fun fairs are considered hearing specialists as they have evolved a structure to enhance auditory signals detected by the inner ear. It seems just like us humans, goldfish respond to music according to pitch like and timbre like characteristics, however, it should be noted that timbre (the characteristic quality of a sound), may not be the main cue for discrimination.
But, it appears that goldfish are not the only species which tolerates our musical prowess. Pigeons have been trained successfully to discriminate between classical and modern music i.e. between Bach and Stravinsky; Rats have also been able to discriminate between Mozart and The Beatles, however, they do not show a preference. Species which show preference for music might have some relevant phylogenetic (I know, an unnecessarily complicated word which simply means the evolutionary relationship among groups of a species or population), as I was saying a phylogenetic contingency in their evolutionary history. If this still sounds like gibberish, an example is where humans and songbirds have evolved to acquire complex auditory learning abilities, those specialised for language and song.
It seems that some species have a preference for musical style. This is the case for the Java sparrow. They also have the ability to differentiate between consonance (harmonious, pleasurable sound) and dissonance (inharmonious, harsher and generally not a pleasant sound). As pointed out by one of the boffins in question, music is a stimuli produced by humans for humans. This means that different species will perceive the same music as different stimuli depending on their auditory ability. Comparisons have been made on the effects of different genres of music on the social behaviour of mice, for example, classical, country, easy listening, jazz and rock. It seems that classical and country music facilitated social interaction whereas jazz increased aggressive behaviour – you might want to keep this in mind, the next time you hire an exterminator with a jazz obsession.
I know, absolutely unbelievable isn’t it?! If you would like to read more about this, then I suggest you have a look at these articles: