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Enrichment with Music, Video Screens, & Joysticks


Recordings of ambient sounds from healthy ecosystems attract animals to degraded ecosystems: coral reefs & birds


Animals Play Instruments:

National Zoo in Washington:

  Elephant had harmonica always available to play (2012)

  Orangutans (keyboard & drums on tablet), Otters (keyboard) and Sloth Bears (harmonica) had instruments occasionally


Thai Elephant Conservation Center

  Elephants improvise freely on percussion and harmonicas, or play under human direction.


Examples where Primates, Cetaceans, Birds, Fish Choose Music to Listen to


Animals Use Joysticks on Computers:

Pigs at Penn State ('97, '98, video, dissertation is not online)

"The pigs don't want to stop playing at computer games. 'Nine times out of 10,' he said, 'we have to terminate the session. Otherwise, they may play all day.' '' ('98)

Chimpanzees at Georgia State ('96, '12, '14, '14)

Rats move joystick at Georgia State ('04)

Rats press lever so software gives a food reward and controls music. They learned to tell Bach from Stravinsky. ('09) monkeys at Georgia State ('86, '89, '96, '02, '03)

"no intervention has as potent an effect on rhesus monkeys' psychological well-being as does the computerized test system [with joystick]. Although one can reduce the symptoms of depression, boredom, and stress with other forms of environmental enrichment (e.g., social housing, other toys, or manipulanda), the joystick-based apparatus and game-like tasks have a substantial effect over and above these other manipulations...

"Of course, joystick-based computer games are unlike anything that a rhesus monkey would naturally encounter in its ecological niche. Rather than supporting psychological well-being by making the laboratory more like the wild, we have chosen to employ this highly unnatural technology to address the basic factors of psychological well-being: comfort, companionship, challenge, and control." ('03)

Rhesus monkeys at U of Mass ('97)

"Our measures of usage clearly indicated that monkeys both watched selected videotapes and manipulated the video game joystick. However, monkeys spent substantially more time watching videotapes than manipulating the joystick, and females showed more interest in these devices than males. Exposure to these devices also affected other behaviors. Both socially and individually housed monkeys became more active. The social subjects displayed lower levels of passive social contact  and higher levels of locomotion during device presentation. Individually housed monkeys slept less."

Rhesus monkeys at Washington & Jefferson College ('90)

"restraint is not a necessary condition for capturing the monkey's attention. Vivid visual images, auditory feedback, and challenging cognitive tasks appear to be inherently interesting to the animal." Use Other Techniques to Control Their Environment:



Capuchins are commercially trained to help people with disabilities, including "turning on buttons/switches for remotes, phones, computers, etc."

Several videos show the capuchins' work. 

Mother-child Chimp pairs use touchscreens to predict each other's actions on screens better than unrelated humans predict each other (summary, study in Nature'14)

Orangutans at the National Zoo and elsewhere use touchscreens (video'13) 

Cotton-top Tamarin and Common Marmoset monkeys used body location to trigger the researchers to change sound ('07, '04). Experiments were done with varying numbers of 3 to 8 animals.

*      Choosing between silence and lullabies or Mozart, individual tamarins and marmosets spent 54% to 85% of their session with silence (p.663). All the monkeys chose music some of the time.

*      Choosing between 60dB and 90dB white noise, individual marmosets spent 56% to 69% of their session with 60dB.

*      Choosing between a flute lullaby and electronic techno at the same volume, on average tamarins and marmosets spent 63% of their session with flute.

*      Choosing between 60 and 400 clicks per minute, on average tamarins and marmosets spent 60% of their session with 60 clicks.

*      Choosing between 80 and 160 clicks per minute, on average tamarins and marmosets spent 55% of their session with 80 clicks.

*      Choosing between recordings of tamarins' feeding chirps versus distress calls, on average tamarins spent 58% of their time with chirps.

*      Choosing between consonant and dissonant 2-note chords, on average tamarins spent 51% of their time with dissonance (not statistically different from consonant).

*      Choosing between white noise and steel scratching on glass, both at 80 dB, on average tamarins spent 53% of their time with the white noise (not statistically different from scratching steel).

Tamarins and Marmosets were measured when they were highly stressed. Researchers carried each animal to the entrance to a small cage with two branches, left the room, opened the cage remotely, and in the next 5 minutes the researcher played different sound depending which branch the animal was in. They do not say how the animals reacted to being carried to the cage, but "distress calls... screams [are] produced by [tamarins] being held by our veterinary staff during routine checkups" ('04 p.B15), and, "Primates dislike being handled and are stressed by it" (AWI '15 p.176) so carrying them would leave them highly distressed for the next 5 minutes, during the experiment.

Researchers do not say the cage size, but it appears about 25cm high. Tamarins average 23 cm, and Marmosets 19 cm, so they have little room, not "allowing the animals to move up to heights where they feel secure" (Medical Research Council (2004) of the United Kingdom, quoted in AWI '15 p.176).

The title of the 2007 article, "Nonhuman primates prefer slow tempos but dislike music overall", has been much quoted and has led trainers to avoid playing music to primates. However if monkeys can turn music on and off, all wanted music part of the time, even after a highly stressful introduction to a new small cage.

Rhesus monkeys pressed a copper sensor so software gives a food reward and controls music. They recognized simple songs like Happy Birthday when transposed by a whole number of octaves. ('00)



  Dolphins used "a movable lever ... at night to turn on or off or select among various tape-recorded acoustic stimuli, including dolphin sounds, whale sounds, human voices, music, etc." (Herman, Cetacean Behavior '80)

  Dolphins used underwater touchscreen with up to 4 choices (Delfour '12) If they chose the one the researchers wanted (associated with a tone the researchers played) the reward was a video image of "a colored ball moving and/or an animated fish moving and/or the target moving on the screen. We could also play sound with the reward or not."

  Dolphins pointed narrow echolocation beams onto an array of hydrophones which acted like a touchscreen (video).

  1. The 2007 and 2008 papers reported a 4x4 array of hydrophones, 300mm (12") apart, total size 900mm (3') square. They used it at Kolmĺrden Dolphinarium in Sweden to measure three dolphins' food preferences. All three dolphins learned to echolocate on the screen in their first training session (of 5-40 runs). The screen showed a dot where the echolocation beam was heard, to give visual feedback. One dolphin learned to select visual symbols (placed randomly in front of hydrophones) after 16 training sessions, totaling 223 runs, though she did not discriminate between symbols for food and a symbol meaning no food. The other two dolphins echolocated on the hydrophones, and clicked each one until they got a reward, but did not pay attention to the visual symbols. The authors suspect their side-mounted eyes may not see well the symbols directly in front of their head. They could benefit from a visual screen on the side, not in front of the hydrophones.
  2. The 2009 and 2012 papers reported an array of 47 hydrophones, 125mm (5") apart, total size 750mm (30") square. They formed a 7x7 array without the upper left and right corners. Researchers used the array with a beluga in Sea World San Diego, and dolphins in sea pens in Roatán Institute for Marine Sciences at Anthony's Key Resort, Honduras. This array had better electronics, to analyze frequencies and patterns of echolocation clicks, and to store more data faster.

  Dolphins used a touchscreen to show they recognized a musical note ('05)

  The orca Keiko watched videos of wild orcas while being rehabilitated for release. Johns Hopkins neuroscience researchers consider video screen for dolphins ('14). The aquarium has decided to move the dolphins to a sanctuary.

  Orcas' training potential ('02)

  Belugas followed icebreaker to open water when it played classical music (1985)



  Java Sparrows triggered a photosensor by sitting on a particular perch, which determined which music was played. Two birds preferred Bach and Vivaldi over Schoenberg or silence. The other two birds had varying preferences among Bach, Schoenberg, white noise and silence. ('98)

  Pigeons peck an infrared touchscreen at the right spot to get food rewards, guided by landmarks on the screen. Spot and landmarks move around the screen as a unit. ('95)

  Zebra Finches peck levers to play music, sometimes for hours, then stop for hours. It appears each lever played a short tune, which birds could and did repeat (no date).



  Goldfish bite a ball to trigger a switch so software gives a food reward and controls music. They learned to tell Bach from Stravinsky. ('09)

  Koi (carp) press a button in their tank so software gives a food reward and controls music. They learned to tell blues from classical (Baroque and other) ('95)


Passive Watching Videos and Listening to Music

The following summary is from "Nonhuman Primates" by Viktor Reinhardt, DVM, PhD, chapter in Animal Welfare Institute, 2015, Comfortable Quarters for Laboratory Animals, edited by Cathy Liss, Kenneth Litwak, Dave Tilford, and Viktor Reinhardt. Three of the four studies showed benefits, though only the first had a substantial sample size, and only the second and fourth let the animals control the music.:

*      49 Rhesus macaques watched videos as much of the time as most primates spend on other enrichment activities, without losing interest as they do with toys.

*      Five rhesus macaques varied widely when they could turn soft rock music on and off, ranging from 0-24 hours per day, averaging 12 hours on.

*      Four baboons were calmer with oldies music on.

*      Four cotton-top tamarins and four adult common marmosets varied; they chose lullabies or Mozart (versus silence) for 15% to 46% of the time.

"Videos, television and music: Schapiro & Bloomsmith (1995, $6) presented 49 single-caged yearling rhesus macaques with videotapes of chimpanzees and rhesus macaques in natural settings most of the day for a period of 3 months. During 15-minute observation sessions, subjects were looking at the monitor about 7% of the time. The possibility was not ruled out that the animals would have shown the same interest in the blank monitor.

"Markowitz & Line (1991 $12, 1990 free, 1989, $80) mounted a radio on the cages of five single adult female rhesus macaques. The radio was available for a 14-week period and was preset to a soft rock music station; the animals could turn the radio on and off by touching two different bars. When they were timed during weeks 8–14, individual animals turned on the radio for 0–24 hours on different days, averaging 3-15 hours per day in the experiment as a whole. They graph the total hours played by each animal each week. On average the radio was turned on for more than 12 hours per day. The monkeys showed no signs of losing interest in listening to the music.

"Brent & Weaver (1996, $6) noted in four single-caged baboons that the animals’ mean heart rate was significantly lower when they could listen to a radio station playing oldies than when the radio was turned off. This calming effect may have been indirect, with the music masking the noise coming from other animal rooms, the ventilation system, and the caretaking staff.

"McDermott & Hauser (2007, free) gave four adult cotton-top tamarins and four adult common marmosets the choice of listening to various noises and various kind of music. The animals showed a significant preference for soft over loud noise and for slow-tempo over fast tempo music. Both tamarins and marmosets strongly and consistently preferred silence over musical stimuli (flute lullaby: p<0.0001; sung lullaby: p<0.003; Mozart concerto: p<0.0001), suggesting that they did not find such stimuli pleasurable or relaxing. [This mis-states the study: All animals in the experiment chose music part of the time, summarized above.]

"Recommendations: Before an institution plans to implement video, television or music enrichment programs for its nonhuman primates, it is advisable to first check if the animals actually benefit from such an investment. Playing music, videos or television programs in animal rooms may entertain the attending personnel but not necessarily the caged animals; they may have different preferences—including silence—which need to be respected to safeguard the animals’ well-being. "

*      Schapiro SJ and Bloomsmith MA 1995 Behavioral effects of enrichment on singly-housed, yearling rhesus monkeys: An analysis including three enrichment conditions and a control group. American Journal of Primatology 35: 89–101

*      Markowitz H and Line SW 1989 Primate research models and environmental enrichment. In: Segal EF (ed) Housing, Care and Psychological Wellbeing of Captive and Laboratory Primates pp 202–212. Noyes Publications: Park Ridge, NJ ($70)

*      Brent L and Weaver D 1996 The physiological and behavioral effects of radio music on singly housed baboons. Journal of Medical Primatology 25: 370–374

*      McDermott J and Hauser MD 2007 Nonhuman primates prefer slow tempos but dislike music overall. Cognition 104: 654–668. (see summary above)


AWI's books of Q+A for lab animal facilities cite,

Volume 1, 2007

*      "Howell et al. (2002) an increase in social grooming and fewer aggressive interactions in chimpanzees when the animals were exposed to classical music." [Howell S, Roeder E, Nelson C, Fritz J and Schwandt M 2002 The effect of music on the behavior of captive chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). American Journal of Primatology 57:83-84. See also January 2007, Effects of Two Types and Two Genre of Music on Social Behavior in Captive Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), Elaine N Videan,* Jo Fritz, Sue Howell, and James Murphy, *, Journal of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, Vol 46, No 1]

*      Washburn DA and Rumbaugh DM 1992 Investigations of rhesus monkey video-task performance: Evidence for enrichment. Contemporary Topics in Laboratory Animal Science 31(5): 6-10

Volume 2, 2010

*      Our capuchins can watch TV in the afternoon and on the weekends. We train them to help disabled people, so we actually teach them how to use a regular TV. They use the buttons on the front of the TV; they can go up or down the dial until we either ask them to stop (training) or they find something they like (free time). It appears to me that the animals like some programs more than others. These animals are smart and need something to at least think about. I figure it is like being at car repair garages: all have a TV to amuse us while we wait.

*      I think they enjoy the sounds sometimes more than the pictures on the TV, but many animals will watch at least part of the TV session.

*       We are making the transition to nature videos based on an in-house study documenting that the animals paid more attention to other monkeys compared to cartoons.

*      We used to show our indoor rhesus macaques nature films or even cartoons like The Little Mermaid. The monkeys couldn’t care less most of the time.

*      Our enrichment team took several videos of the outdoor monkeys. The indoor monkeys are now fascinated when they can view this material. They watch intently, sometimes lip smacking, grunting or threatening. These videos are much more engaging and elicit sustained interest in the macaques.

*      Our rhesus macaques also love videos of other macaques, but show no interest in watching cartoons.

*      We occasionally show videos of outdoor macaques to our indoor macaques. Some, but not all, of the animals orient themselves in their cages so they can get a good view, and they are quiet and attentive during the viewing. I observed a similar response when I worked with baboons, who gave the impression they enjoyed watching the movie Babe.

*      I studied the preference for movie contents in caged male Japanese macaques; these movies had no sound tracks, so the animals could only see but not hear the contents. A touch-sensitive monitor was attached at the animals’ cages and the monkeys could select movies by touching the monitor. In this setting, the monkeys showed a clear preference for human and animation movies, although they could chose movies with Japanese macaques, rhesus macaques, and chimpanzees [Ogura & Tanaka, 2008].

*      Ogura T and Tanaka M 2008 Preferred contents of movies as an enrichment method for Japanese macaques. Primate Eye 96: 99

*      That marmosets prefer silence to radio is not at all surprising when considering the fact that 30-minute exposure to playing radio is enough to double their salivary cortisol concentration (Pines et al., 2004); it’s obviously stressful for them when they have to listen to the radio.

*      Pines MK, Kaplan G and Rogers LJ 2004 Stressors of common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) in the captive environment: Effects on behaviour and cortisol levels. Folia Primatologica 75(Supplement): 317-318

*      Audio plays for our cynomolgus macaques all day long. We have a mix of music that is played, from soft jazz to waterfall sounds and instrumental. The volume is set at a specific level, but in each room there are dials to turn the music down or off when a function is accruing or the television is playing. I do see calmer primates—both attending human primates and nonhuman primates—when the softer music or instrumental music is playing.

*      We’d had some harder type classic rock songs that were taken off the list, because they made some monkeys very agitated, especially when the volume of the sound was turned up too much.

Volume 3, 2013

*      Music affects the mood of our rhesus and cynomolgus macaques quite a bit. Gregorian chant music, Indian flute music, and soft drumming have a noticeably relaxing effect on all our monkeys. When we turn the TV to the music channels on occasion, we always put it on a channel called Beautiful Instrumentals; that also has a calming effect.

*      Our macaques do not like loud, continued music at all, even music that normally relaxes them. We always keep it at a volume that would allow us to fall asleep.

*      Hard rock and heavy metal music is extremely irritating to our animals, so we never play that type of noise at any volume.

*      I would love to develop a device that allows our macaques to turn the radio on and off at their own will.

*      Line et al. (1991) exposed ten adult rhesus macaques to such a radio—preset to a soft rock format station at a low volume—for a 6-week test period. The animals could turn the radio on and off by touching contact detectors extending from the apparatus into their cages. Some monkeys never turned the radio off while others never turned it on. The radio was used with an average playing time of 1.3 hours per 24-hour day (Line et al., 1990).

*      Line SW, Clarke AS, Markowitz H and Ellman G, 1990 Responses of female rhesus macaques to an environmental enrichment apparatus. Laboratory Animals 24: 213–220

*      Line SW and Morgan KN 1991 The effects of two novel objects on the behaviour of singly caged adult rhesus macaques. Laboratory Animal Science 41: 365–369

*      Line SW, Markowitz H, Morgan KN and Strong S 1991 Effect of cage size and environmental enrichment on behavioral and physiological responses of rhesus macaques to the stress of daily events. In: Novak MA and Petto AJ (eds) Through the Looking Glass. Issues of Psychological Well-being in Captive Nonhuman Primates pp. 160–179. American Psychological Association: Washington DC

*      Every day, an audio system plays two hours of music and nature sounds in each room of our rhesus and cynos. It is remarkable how relatively quiet the monkey rooms are when the audio system is turned on.

*      We recently started playing music for our pigs. Already I have noticed a big difference. The rooms that have the music playing seem so calm, all pigs are quietly lying in body contact with each other. They barely move when I come in the room. They all appear so relaxed; it is great!

*      Lambeth et al. (2000): “Subjects were 10 adult chimpanzees living in two groups. Five females were exposed to a 10-minute videotape of female chimpanzees being positively reinforced for successfully urinating into a cup. Immediately following videotape exposure, these subjects participated in a training session.” On average, experimental and control subjects received 56 minutes of training. “Subjects with videotape exposure successfully responded to the command to urinate in significantly less time than did controls. … Four of the five experimental subjects urinated into the cup in a mean of 5.75 minutes, while the fifth subject never urinated during the training sessions. Only two of the five control subjects urinated into the cup during training sessions (mean time = 43.32 minutes).”

*      Lambeth SP, Perlman JE and Schapiro SJ 2000 Positive reinforcement training paired with videotape exposure decreases training time investment for a complicated task in female chimpanzees. American Journal of Primatology 51(Supplement): 79–80


Another summary  says,

*      "Of 219 zoological parks surveyed only about 4.0% provided auditory or visual enrichment daily (Hoy et al. 2010).

*      "When rhesus macaques were exposed to videotapes showing conspecifics they became more active and slept less (Platt and Novak 1997)."


USDA said in 1999:

*      "Additional enrichment may be provided by allowing the primate a means of controlling the stimulation (J. Coe 1995) [Coe, J. (1995). Opinion: Giving laboratory animals choices. Lab Animal 24(7): 41-42.]...

*      "Motion can be used as visual stimulation in various forms such as TV, videos, or video games (Brent and Stone 1996 [Brent, L. and A. M. Stone (1996). Long term use of televisions, balls, and mirrors in enrichment for paired and singly caged chimpanzees. American Journal of Primatology 39(2): 139-145.], Rumbaugh et. al. 1989 [Rumbaugh, D. M., D. Washburn, and E. S. Savage-Rumbaugh (1989). On the care of captive chimpanzees: Methods of enrichment. In Housing, Care and Psychological Well-being of Captive and Laboratory Primates, E. F. Segal, ed., Noyes Publications: Park Ridge, New Jersey, pp.357-374.]).

*      Television should only be presented in a way that primates have the choice not to watch it, as some television images may be disturbing...

*      "time chimpanzees spent watching videos varied with the content of the tape and with individual preferences (Bloomsmith and Young 1988). [no detailed citation available]

*      "Chimpanzees who observed "real" world events on TV seemed to understand the TV monitor (Rumbaugh et. al. 1989). [above]

*      "Chimpanzees have demonstrated they can learn to use a joystick by watching an experimenter play a game. They have also learned about food locations and events occurring outside their direct view by watching television monitors (Savage-Rumbaugh 1986). [Savage-Rumbaugh, E. S. (1986). Ape language: From conditioned response to symbol. Columbia University Press: New York, 433 p.]

*      Rhesus macaques have also been found to watch videos and manipulate video game joysticks. They spent more time watching videos than manipulating joysticks. Females showed more interest than males. Both socially and individually housed monkeys became more active (Platt and Novak 1997). [Platt, D. M. and M. A. Novak (1997). Videostimulation as enrichment for captive rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Applied Animal Behaviour Science 52: 139-155.]

*      Although it did not help as much as puzzle feeders and foraging boxes, short-term viewing of videotapes did decrease some stereotypic behaviors in rhesus with abnormal behaviors (Meunier et. al. 1989: 479). [Meunier, L. D., J. T. Duktig, and M. S. Landi (1989). Modifications of stereotypic behavior in rhesus monkeys using videotapes, puzzlefeeders, and foraging boxes. Laboratory Animal Science 39(5): 479.]

*      "One study seemed to show videotapes were not as effective as sensory stimulation, but the videotapes used were presented without sound to yearling rhesus housed singly outdoors where they could watch other monkeys and had competing stimuli from the natural environment (Schapiro and Bloomsmith 1995). [above]

*      "Rhesus' psychomotor skills and cognitive abilities are often tested with the use of joysticks and computer screen programs. One psychomotor test system consisted of a computer game with a food reward. Monkeys are given free choice to access the game or not. This allowed them to interact with and exert some control over their environment... (Rosenberg et. al. 1990) [Rosenberg, D. P., L. A. Berke, M. Williams, and J. A. Ferandin (1990). Using computer games for environmental enrichment of rhesus monkeys in space flight and in the vivarium. Laboratory Animal Science 40(5): 548.]...

*      Music and naturalistic sounds available at times throughout the day may reduce aberrant behaviors (National Institutes of Health 1991). [National Institutes of Health, Office of Animal Care and Use. (1991). Non-human Primate Management Plan. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health: Bethesda, Maryland, p 49.]

*      Socially housed rhesus monkeys given access to a device allowing them to turn music on and off spent a considerable amount of time playing the music. Their interest was maintained longer when they were given a choice between two stimuli, and they showed a preference for jazz and dixieland over animal sounds. Compared to a control group, the rhesus given auditory stimulation showed an increase in affiliative behavior and a decrease in self-directed behaviors. The study also showed the music had a calming effect during conditions of heightened arousal such as the introduction of a novel or threatening object (Drewson 1989). [Drewson, K. H. (1989). The importance of auditory variation in the home cage environment of socially housed rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Dissertation Abstracts International 50(12-B): 5924.]

*      Although the behavior and blood pressure of a small group of singly caged baboons did not vary when they were given auditory stimulation, their heart rates were significantly lower when the radio was on (Brent and Weaver 1996). [above]