Andrea Ravignani


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  • Ravignani, A., Sonnweber, R.-S., Stobbe, N., & Fitch, W. T. (2013). Action at a distance: Dependency sensitivity in a New World primate. Biology Letters, 9(6): 0130852. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2013.0852.


    Sensitivity to dependencies (correspondences between distant items) in sensory stimuli plays a crucial role in human music and language. Here, we show that squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus) can detect abstract, non-adjacent dependencies in auditory stimuli. Monkeys discriminated between tone sequences containing a dependency and those lacking it, and generalized to previously unheard pitch classes and novel dependency distances. This constitutes the first pattern learning study where artificial stimuli were designed with the species' communication system in mind. These results suggest that the ability to recognize dependencies represents a capability that had already evolved in humans’ last common ancestor with squirrel monkeys, and perhaps before.
  • Ravignani, A., Olivera, M. V., Gingras, B., Hofer, R., Hernandez, R. C., Sonnweber, R. S., & Fitch, T. W. (2013). Primate drum kit: A system for studying acoustic pattern production by non-human primates using acceleration and strain sensors. Sensors, 13(8), 9790-9820. doi:10.3390/s130809790.


    The possibility of achieving experimentally controlled, non-vocal acoustic production in non-human primates is a key step to enable the testing of a number of hypotheses on primate behavior and cognition. However, no device or solution is currently available, with the use of sensors in non-human animals being almost exclusively devoted to applications in food industry and animal surveillance. Specifically, no device exists which simultaneously allows: (i) spontaneous production of sound or music by non-human animals via object manipulation, (ii) systematical recording of data sensed from these movements, (iii) the possibility to alter the acoustic feedback properties of the object using remote control. We present two prototypes we developed for application with chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) which, while fulfilling the aforementioned requirements, allow to arbitrarily associate sounds to physical object movements. The prototypes differ in sensing technology, costs, intended use and construction requirements. One prototype uses four piezoelectric elements embedded between layers of Plexiglas and foam. Strain data is sent to a computer running Python through an Arduino board. A second prototype consists in a modified Wii Remote contained in a gum toy. Acceleration data is sent via Bluetooth to a computer running Max/MSP. We successfully pilot tested the first device with a group of chimpanzees. We foresee using these devices for a range of cognitive experiments.
  • Ravignani, A., Gingras, B., Asano, R., Sonnweber, R., Matellan, V., & Fitch, W. T. (2013). The evolution of rhythmic cognition: New perspectives and technologies in comparative research. In M. Knauff, M. Pauen, I. Sebanz, & I. Wachsmuth (Eds.), Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1199-1204). Austin,TX: Cognitive Science Society.


    Music is a pervasive phenomenon in human culture, and musical rhythm is virtually present in all musical traditions. Research on the evolution and cognitive underpinnings of rhythm can benefit from a number of approaches. We outline key concepts and definitions, allowing fine-grained analysis of rhythmic cognition in experimental studies. We advocate comparative animal research as a useful approach to answer questions about human music cognition and review experimental evidence from different species. Finally, we suggest future directions for research on the cognitive basis of rhythm. Apart from research in semi-natural setups, possibly allowed by “drum set for chimpanzees” prototypes presented here for the first time, mathematical modeling and systematic use of circular statistics may allow promising advances.

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