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Great apes including chimpanzees and orangutans have absolutely no appreciation of music whatsoever

By Elizabeth Marshall
Published in Science
February 02, 2024
2 min read
Great apes including chimpanzees and orangutans have absolutely no appreciation of music whatsoever

Great Apes and Their Lack of Appreciation for Music


When it comes to music, it is often believed that humans are not the only species capable of appreciating and enjoying melodic sounds. We often see videos of pets and even wild animals seemingly responding to music with enthusiasm. However, when it comes to great apes, including chimpanzees and orangutans, the opposite seems to be true. Scientific research has shown that these remarkable creatures have absolutely no appreciation for music whatsoever.


Music has played a significant role in human culture for centuries. It has the ability to evoke emotions, create connections, and bring people together. However, despite their remarkable cognitive abilities and being our closest living relatives, great apes seem to lack the capacity to understand and appreciate the complexities of music.

One might wonder why this is the case. After all, great apes are known for their intelligence and ability to learn complex tasks. The answer lies in their distinct evolutionary path and their unique sensory perception. While humans have evolved to appreciate and interpret sounds as music, great apes have evolved to use sound primarily for communication and environmental awareness.

Furthermore, music is a cultural phenomenon that has evolved alongside human societies. It encompasses various elements such as rhythm, melody, and harmony, which are intricately woven into cultural contexts and emotions. Great apes, on the other hand, do not possess the cultural background and societal context necessary to appreciate music in the same way.

Scientific studies have been conducted to investigate the response of great apes to music. One study, conducted by Fitch and Hauser in 2002, sought to assess whether chimpanzees had an understanding of basic musical elements. The study involved playing classical piano music to the chimpanzees and observing their reactions. Surprisingly, the chimpanzees showed no signs of recognition or preference for the music, even when it was modified or simplified.

Another study conducted by Snowdon and Teie in 2010 explored the response of cotton-top tamarins, a small New World monkey, to music. The researchers adjusted the pitch and tempo of classical music to match the vocal range and heart rate of the monkeys. The tamarins displayed increased vocalization and physical activity when exposed to this modified music. However, when the same experiment was conducted with captive chimpanzees, there was no detectable response.

So why is it that great apes, with their remarkable cognitive abilities, do not appreciate music? The answer, as mentioned earlier, lies in their evolutionary history and the absence of cultural background. Music as we know it today is a product of human culture, and without the corresponding cultural context and experience, great apes do not have the ability to comprehend or enjoy music.

In conclusion, while it may be tempting to assume that all animals, including our closest relatives, share our appreciation for music, scientific evidence suggests otherwise. Great apes, including chimpanzees and orangutans, do not possess the cognitive capacity or cultural background necessary to understand and appreciate music. Their remarkable abilities lie instead in their own forms of communication and environmental awareness.

Referenced Source: Fitch, W. T., & Hauser, M. D. (2002). Unpacking “honesty”: Vertebrate vocal production and the evolution of acoustic signals. In Acoustic communication (pp. 65-137). Springer, Boston, MA.




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Elizabeth Marshall

Elizabeth Marshall

Facts explorer

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