Midbrain adaptation may set the stage for the perception of musical beat

Proc Biol Sci. 2017 Nov 15;284(1866):20171455. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.1455.


The ability to spontaneously feel a beat in music is a phenomenon widely believed to be unique to humans. Though beat perception involves the coordinated engagement of sensory, motor and cognitive processes in humans, the contribution of low-level auditory processing to the activation of these networks in a beat-specific manner is poorly understood. Here, we present evidence from a rodent model that midbrain preprocessing of sounds may already be shaping where the beat is ultimately felt. For the tested set of musical rhythms, on-beat sounds on average evoked higher firing rates than off-beat sounds, and this difference was a defining feature of the set of beat interpretations most commonly perceived by human listeners over others. Basic firing rate adaptation provided a sufficient explanation for these results. Our findings suggest that midbrain adaptation, by encoding the temporal context of sounds, creates points of neural emphasis that may influence the perceptual emergence of a beat.

Keywords: beat; electrophysiology; perception; psychophysics; rhythm; temporal processing.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gerbillinae / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Inferior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Music*
  • Psychomotor Performance*
  • Young Adult