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Reality Check

I'll add a peck.


Porter and Neuringer (Journal of Experimental Psychology, Animal Behavior Processes, 1984) showed that pigeons could readily discriminate excerpts from Bach's music as compared with excerpts from Stravinsky's music.  Pigeons (and many other birds) have low-frequency sensitivity overlapping that of humans, so there goes that issue in this case.  The discrimination also generalized immediately to other classical and modern composers such as Scarlatti and Buxtehude as well as Carter and Piston.  These data say nothing about which musical period was preferred, but the question could be asked and answered experimentally.  For a fuller discussion of some other issues in the comparative psychology of music, see Hulse and Page, Music Perception, 1988. 


No one is likely to claim that nonhuman animals appreciate music just as humans do, but the extent to which they do (or, more importantly, do not) can teach us which aspects of music do make it uniquely human.  Be careful to prejudge as we see how “fur” we can get with these issues!




Stew Hulse