The aim of this study was to explore the role of attention in pulse and meter perception using complex rhythms. We used a selective attention paradigm in which participants attended to either a complex auditory rhythm or a visually presented word list. Performance on a reproduction task was used to gauge whether participants were attending to the appropriate stimulus. We hypothesized that attention to complex rhythms - which contain no energy at the pulse frequency - would lead to activations in motor areas involved in pulse perception. Moreover, because multiple repetitions of a complex rhythm are needed to perceive a pulse, activations in pulse-related areas would be seen only after sufficient time had elapsed for pulse perception to develop. Selective attention was also expected to modulate activity in sensory areas specific to the modality. We found that selective attention to rhythms led to increased BOLD responses in basal ganglia, and basal ganglia activity was observed only after the rhythms had cycled enough times for a stable pulse percept to develop. These observations suggest that attention is needed to recruit motor activations associated with the perception of pulse in complex rhythms. Moreover, attention to the auditory stimulus enhanced activity in an attentional sensory network including primary auditory cortex, insula, anterior cingulate, and prefrontal cortex, and suppressed activity in sensory areas associated with attending to the visual stimulus.
Keywords: attention; auditory perception; fMRI; rhythm; timing.