Learning of timing patterns and the development of temporal expectations

Psychol Res. 2011 May;75(3):243-58. doi: 10.1007/s00426-010-0302-7. Epub 2010 Aug 4.


The present study investigated the learning of a culturally unfamiliar musical rhythm, leading to the development of temporal expectations, and it explored the potential for generalization across tempi and tasks. With that aim, we adapted the serial reaction time task to examine the learning of temporal structures by an indirect method. The temporal pattern employed was based on a complex interval ratio (2:3) and compared to one based on a simple interval ratio (1:2). In the exposure phase, non-musician participants performed a two-choice speeded discrimination task that required responding by key press to each event of the simple or complex auditory pattern. Participants were not informed about the temporal regularities; their task solely concerned the discrimination task. During exposure (Experiments 1-3), response times decreased over time for both temporal patterns, but particularly for the events following the longer interval of the more complex 2:3 pattern. Exposure further influenced performance in subsequent testing phases, notably the precision of tap timing in a production task (Experiment 2) and temporal expectations in a perception task (Experiment 3). Our findings promote the new paradigm introduced here as a method to investigate the learning of temporal structures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Music
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Time Perception / physiology