Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Science




Grahn, Jessica

2nd Supervisor

MacDougall-Shackleton, Scott

Joint Supervisor


When humans listen to musical rhythms they sense a beat, the regular pulse that one might tap their foot to. Much about the functions, evolution and neural substrates of beat perception remains unclear. Research has considered whether other species perceive beat, yet more empirical data is needed. Songbirds produce learned rhythmic vocalizations, but can they perceive a beat? To answer this question, I developed a behavioural task that tested whether humans could discriminate rhythms that contained or lacked a beat. I applied an equivalent procedure to test European starlings. I found that humans learned the task with minimal instructions, but starlings were unable to discriminate on the basis of beat presence. Additional testing revealed that the starlings used absolute timing cues and ignored global patterns in rhythms. This work contributes a paradigm that may be adapted to study other species. Its results provide insight for designing future comparative rhythm experiments.