Metricality-enhanced temporal encoding and the subjective perception of rhythmic sequences

Cortex. 2009 Jan;45(1):72-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2008.01.006. Epub 2008 Oct 30.


Feeling the beat of a musical piece is easier for some pieces than others, depending on the underlying metrical structure. The present study sought to determine whether increasing metricality, meaning the amount of information supporting an intended meter, would elicit a corresponding increase in the precision of the temporal encoding of rhythmic sequences. Metricality was varied i) by using the Povel and Essens (1985) model of temporal accent induction to create a strong or weak sense of meter and ii) by including metrically plausible (compact) or implausible (open) endings. Precision of temporal encoding as a function of degree of metricality was assessed in an adaptively controlled change detection task. The change to be detected was a perturbation of relative interval timing that affected sequences as a whole rather than at specific points only. Change detection thresholds were significantly lower for sequences featuring a strong compared to a weak meter, and a compact compared to an open ending. Subjective ratings of rhythmicality of sequences also yielded main effects of strength of meter and ending. The data support an increase in the precision of temporal pattern encoding for sequences with a higher-order metrical time framework.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Music / psychology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Young Adult