Andrea Ravignani

Who’s got rhythm? Why do we speak? In my research, I investigate the evolutionary and biological bases of rhythm cognition and flexible sound production, and the role they played in the origins of music and speech in our species. I perform sound recordings and behavioral non-invasive experiments in non-human animals (mostly seals), as a comparative effort to understand the evolutionary history of human capacities. I complement animal research with human testing, neurobiological evidence, mathematical models, and agent-based simulations.

I have a BSc in Mathematics from La Sapienza University of Rome (2007) and master degrees in Mathematics/Economics/Statistics from Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne, Ca' Foscari University of Venice, and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (2010). I completed my PhD in Biology (2014) at the Dept. of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Austria, supervised by Prof. W. Tecumseh Fitch and Prof. Simon Kirby (Centre for Language Evolution, University of Edinburgh). My doctoral work investigated musical and syntactic capacities comparatively in humans, chimpanzees and squirrel monkeys.

Between 2014 and 2020, I have performed research as a postdoctoral fellow on vocal communication and rhythm in seals and humans, based at the AI-Lab Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Sealcentre Pieterburen, Marine Science Center Rostock, Institute for Advanced Studies (UvA, Amsterdam) and Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. During this time, I have been hosted and/or advised by Bart de Boer, Henkjan Honing, Ana Rubio Garcia, Steve Levinson, and Sonja Kotz.

My doctoral and postdoctoral research projects were almost entirely supported by European funding: a Pegasus Marie Curie fellowship (to me), an ERC Starting Grant (to Bart de Boer), and an ERC Advanced Grant (to Tecumseh Fitch). I am also grateful to the University of Vienna, European Science Foundation, European Commission, European Research Council, Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek – Vlaanderen, Max Planck Society, Max Planck Institute for Software Systems, French government, and all other institutions which supported my studies and research over the past few years.

In 2019, I was offered a Max Planck Independent Group Leader position. The group "Comparative BioAcoustics" (CBA) started in spring 2020. It is based at the MPI and benefits from a large worldwide collaborative network.

Editorial activity

I believe in collaborative science and in doing my part within the whole scientific community. I am an Associate Editor for the Journal of Zoology. The journal is linked to the Zoological Society of London and published by Wiley-Blackwell. I am an Associate Editor for the Springer-Nature journal BMC Research Notes, which is fully Open Access. I have been Guest Editor for special issues in Frontiers in Neuroscience/Psychology/Human Neuroscience and Current Zoology. I have edited the Proceedings of the Evolang conferences in 2018 and 2020. I have acted as a referee for the following journals (and I am always happy to accept requests for peer-review): American Journal of Primatology; Animal Cognition; Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences; Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics; Behavior Research Methods; Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology; Behavioural Processes; Bioacoustics; Biology Letters; Brain and Cognition; Cognition; Cognitive Science; Current Biology; Ecology & Evolution; Evolution; Evolution & Human Behavior; Evolutionary Human Sciences; Evolutionary Psychology; Frontiers in Neuroscience; Frontiers in Psychology; Infancy; Interaction Studies; Journal of Comparative Psychology; Journal of Experimental Biology; Journal of Experimental Psychology; Journal of Language Evolution; Marine Mammal Science; Music & Science; Nature Communications; Nature Human Behaviour; PLoS Computational Biology; PLoS One; PNAS; Proceedings of the Royal Society B; Psychological Research; Psychonomic Bulletin and Review; Royal Society Open Science; Scientific Reports; Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience; The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America; Timing & Time Perception; Trends in Ecology and Evolution. I have also acted as referee for conference proceedings (e.g. AMLaP, Amsterdam Colloquium, EvoLang, Measuring Behaviour) and grant reviewer/panel member for scientific institutions (e.g. Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, FWO - Research Foundation Flanders, Swiss National Science Foundation).

Research interests

To find out why humans (and some other species) have musical and linguistic capacities, I perform research in a number of areas (perspective students/interns interested in one of these should get in touch with me): Bioacoustics in mammals; Vocal learning and vocal imitation; Rhythm perception in music and music recursion; Speech rhythm and prosody; Acoustic allometry; Vocal tract anatomy; Comparative neurobiology of language and music; Mathematical modeling of the evolutionary dynamics of language and music; Agent-based computational modeling of turn-taking, interactive communication and group chorusing; Artificial grammar learning and species-tailored comparative cognition; Beat perception and sensorimotor synchronization; Animal rhythmic movement and the evolution of dance; Cultural transmission of musical features and cross-cultural music research; Timing, time perception and social cognition; Acoustic communication in primates, pinnipeds and other mammals;


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