Controversial study shows rats prefer jazz to classical music, when on drugs

18 May 2020, 17:04 | Updated: 21 January 2022, 16:39

Rats prefer jazz to classical music
Rats prefer jazz to classical music. Picture: Tienkie Gericke/Pinterest

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

The research, which showed rats’ preference for jazz while under the influence of a certain substance, was criticised by animal rights groups.

Rats prefer the sound of silence to Beethoven and Miles Davis – except when they are on drugs. Then, they prefer the jazz.

These are the results of a controversial 2011 study by Albany Medical College, in which scientists exposed 36 rats to ‘Für Elise’ by Beethoven and ‘Four’, a brassy jazz standard by Miles Davis. The rats overwhelmingly preferred Beethoven to Davis, but they liked silence best of all.

In the second part of the experiment, the rats were given cocaine and played Miles Davis over a period of a few days. After that, the rodents preferred the jazz even after the drug was out of their system.

The research, according to scientists, showed rats can be conditioned to like any music associated with their drug experience.

Read more: Sharks love jazz music but don’t get classical, scientists reveal >

Rats prefer jazz to Beethoven
Rats prefer jazz to Beethoven. Picture: Getty

In the months after Albany Med’s paper was published, it attracted criticism from groups opposing animal testing.

The study made it into the Top 10 list of ‘Most Ridiculous Research on Animals of 2011’ compiled by In Defense of Animals, a California-based group that opposes animal experiments.

“We thought that this was particularly wasteful,” said Eric Kleiman, research director for IDA, who ranked Albany Med’s paper the second worst for two music experiments on rats. “Miles Davis and Beethoven with rats? I mean, c’mon.”

Read more: The ‘Mozart effect’ – will classical music make your baby smarter? >

Beethoven's 'Für Elise' in the style of jazz standard 'Take Five'

Albany Medical College defended their research, which was aimed at understanding whether music can evoke drug cravings in animals. According to the authors, this study demonstrated that rats can be conditioned to like any music, after its repeated association with a reward mechanism (in this case, the stimulus of cocaine).

“The ultimate goal of this research is to find medications that can help diminish drug cravings in humans,” said Jeffrey R. Gordon, spokesman for Albany Med.

The Top 10 list was made up of controversial research funded by taxpayer money that appeared in peer-reviewed journals in 2011, compiled by In Defence of Animals (IDA).