Ravignani, A., Bowling, D. L., & Fitch, W. T.
(2014). Chorusing, synchrony, and the evolutionary functions of rhythm. Frontiers in Psychology, 5: 1118. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01118.
A central goal of biomusicology is to understand the biological basis of human musicality. One approach to this problem has been to compare core components of human musicality (relative pitch perception, entrainment, etc.) with similar capacities in other animal species. Here we extend and clarify this comparative approach with respect to rhythm. First, whereas most comparisons between human music and animal acoustic behavior have focused on spectral properties (melody and harmony), we argue for the central importance of temporal properties, and propose that this domain is ripe for further comparative research. Second, whereas most rhythm research in non-human animals has examined animal timing in isolation, we consider how chorusing dynamics can shape individual timing, as in human music and dance, arguing that group behavior is key to understanding the adaptive functions of rhythm. To illustrate the interdependence between individual and chorusing dynamics, we present a computational model of chorusing agents relating individual call timing with synchronous group behavior. Third, we distinguish and clarify mechanistic and functional explanations of rhythmic phenomena, often conflated in the literature, arguing that this distinction is key for understanding the evolution of musicality. Fourth, we expand biomusicological discussions beyond the species typically considered, providing an overview of chorusing and rhythmic behavior across a broad range of taxa (orthopterans, fireflies, frogs, birds, and primates). Finally, we propose an “Evolving Signal Timing” hypothesis, suggesting that similarities between timing abilities in biological species will be based on comparable chorusing behaviors. We conclude that the comparative study of chorusing species can provide important insights into the adaptive function(s) of rhythmic behavior in our “proto-musical” primate ancestors, and thus inform our understanding of the biology and evolution of rhythm in human music and language.