Rhythmic properties in penguin vocalizations may be unique to individuals. Rhythm perception is a cognitive ability previously thought to be exclusive to vocal-learning species who have the neurological complexities required to mimic conspecific and heterospecific vocalizations. Discovering rhythm perception in penguins would provide insight on penguins’ ability to recognize kin using auditory cues, and discount theories constraining rhythm perception to vocal-learning animals. The goal of this study was to learn if African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) could perceive changes in rhythm using a habituation-dishabituation paradigm. Subjects were 32-38 African penguins housed at the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, NY. Penguins were presented with four rhythms at 4 kHz and head turns per bird were counted in 24 sessions. Each session was composed of ten familiarization trials followed by six test trials that alternated between the familiar and novel rhythm. The number of head turns per bird did not significantly increase from the last three familiarization trials to the first novel test trial. Results did not provide evidence for auditory rhythm perception in penguins. This may be because subjects met the habituation criterion in only 9 out of 24 sessions or because of other limitations of the method. It is also possible that a habituation-dishabituation methodology was not ideal for discovering rhythm perception in penguins. More research on auditory rhythm perception in penguins is needed.
Experimental Psychology (MS)
Department, Program, or Center
Caroline M DeLong
Fobe, Irene A., "An Exploration of Rhythm Perception in African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus)" (2017). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
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