Small perturbations in a finger-tapping task reveal inherent nonlinearities of the underlying error correction mechanism

Hum Mov Sci. 2013 Feb;32(1):21-47. doi: 10.1016/j.humov.2012.06.002. Epub 2013 Jan 30.


Time processing in the few hundred milliseconds range is involved in the human skill of sensorimotor synchronization, like playing music in an ensemble or finger tapping to an external beat. In finger tapping, a mechanistic explanation in biologically plausible terms of how the brain achieves synchronization is still missing despite considerable research. In this work we show that nonlinear effects are important for the recovery of synchronization following a perturbation (a step change in stimulus period), even for perturbation magnitudes smaller than 10% of the period, which is well below the amount of perturbation needed to evoke other nonlinear effects like saturation. We build a nonlinear mathematical model for the error correction mechanism and test its predictions, and further propose a framework that allows us to unify the description of the three common types of perturbations. While previous authors have used two different model mechanisms for fitting different perturbation types, or have fitted different parameter value sets for different perturbation magnitudes, we propose the first unified description of the behavior following all perturbation types and magnitudes as the dynamical response of a compound model with fixed terms and a single set of parameter values.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Attention*
  • Awareness
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Motor Activity*
  • Nonlinear Dynamics*
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Subliminal Stimulation
  • Time Perception*