Animal Cognition

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 1-14

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Self-generated sounds of locomotion and ventilation and the evolution of human rhythmic abilities

  • Matz LarssonAffiliated withThe Cardiology Clinic, Örebro University HospitalThe Respiratory Clinic, Örebro University HospitalInstitute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet Email author 


It has been suggested that the basic building blocks of music mimic sounds of moving humans, and because the brain was primed to exploit such sounds, they eventually became incorporated in human culture. However, that raises further questions. Why do genetically close, culturally well-developed apes lack musical abilities? Did our switch to bipedalism influence the origins of music? Four hypotheses are raised: (1) Human locomotion and ventilation can mask critical sounds in the environment. (2) Synchronization of locomotion reduces that problem. (3) Predictable sounds of locomotion may stimulate the evolution of synchronized behavior. (4) Bipedal gait and the associated sounds of locomotion influenced the evolution of human rhythmic abilities. Theoretical models and research data suggest that noise of locomotion and ventilation may mask critical auditory information. People often synchronize steps subconsciously. Human locomotion is likely to produce more predictable sounds than those of non-human primates. Predictable locomotion sounds may have improved our capacity of entrainment to external rhythms and to feel the beat in music. A sense of rhythm could aid the brain in distinguishing among sounds arising from discrete sources and also help individuals to synchronize their movements with one another. Synchronization of group movement may improve perception by providing periods of relative silence and by facilitating auditory processing. The adaptive value of such skills to early ancestors may have been keener detection of prey or stalkers and enhanced communication. Bipedal walking may have influenced the development of entrainment in humans and thereby the evolution of rhythmic abilities.


The origins of music Vocal learning Primate Entrainment Auditory masking Collective behavior