London, June 26 : An Indian-origin researchers in California has come up with the first genuine evidence of animal dancing, by studying the same cockatoo that was seen blopping to pop music in a YouTube video last year.
Aniruddh Patel of the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla says that the ability of the sulphur-crested male cockatoo, Snowball, to move in time to music is much more than a cute curiosity.
He believes that his study may shed light on biological bases of rhythm perception, and even hold implications for the use of music in treating neurodegenerative disease.
"Music with a beat can sometimes help people with Parkinson's disease to initiate and coordinate walking. But we don't know why. If non-human animals can synchronize to a beat, what we learn from their brains could be relevant for understanding the mechanisms behind the clinical power of rhythmic music in Parkinson's," Nature magazine quoted Patel as saying.
Patel says that he and his colleagues decided to meet Snowball at a bird shelter in Indiana called 'Birdlovers Only Rescue Service', where his previous owner had left him, with a CD containing his favourite song Everybody (Backstreet's Back) by the Backstreet Boys.
He says that the idea was not only to test the cockatoo's dancing ability, but also to ensure that he wasn't using timing cues from people dancing off camera when the video was made.
During the study, the researchers altered the tempo of the music in small steps, and studied whether Snowball stayed in synch.
"On each trial he actually dances at a range of tempos," says Patel, but in each case the slower end of Snowball's range seemed to correlate with the tempo of the music.
"When the music tempo was slow, his tempo range included slow dancing. When the music was fast, his tempo range didn't include these slower tempos," he adds.
Patel says that a statistical check on these variations showed that the correlation between the music's rhythm and Snowball's slower movements was very unlikely to have happened by chance.
"To us, this shows that he really does have tempo sensitivity, and is not just 'doing his own thing' at some preferred tempo," he says.
The researcher, who believes that Snowball is unlikely to be unique, will present his findings at the Tenth International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition in Sapporo, Japan, in August.