Tempo sensitivity in auditory sequences: evidence for a multiple-look model

Percept Psychophys. 1993 Sep;54(3):277-86. doi: 10.3758/bf03205262.


Differential thresholds for tempi (with interonset intervals ranging from 100 to 1,500 msec) were measured using an adaptive 2IFC paradigm for several types of auditory sequences. In Experiment 1, the number of intervals in an isochronous sequence was varied to compare the sensitivity for single intervals with that for sequences of two to six intervals. Mean relative just noticeable differences (JNDs) decreased as the number of intervals increased (single intervals = 6%, two intervals = 4%, four intervals = 3.2%, six intervals = 3%) and were optimal at intermediate tempi for both sequences and single intervals (as low as 1.5% in the range between 300 and 800 msec). In Experiment 2, the sensitivity for different types of irregular sequences was studied. Globally, JNDs for irregular sequences were of an intermediate level between that observed for single intervals and that observed for regular sequences. However, the closer a sequence was to regularity, the lower its relative JND. Experiment 3 demonstrated that musicians were more sensitive than nonmusicians to changes in tempo, and this was true for single intervals and for regular and irregular sequences, demonstrating the role of training on these abilities. The results are discussed in terms of possible underlying mechanisms, in particular those providing a mental representation of the mean and dispersion of successive interval durations.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Auditory Threshold
  • Contrast Sensitivity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Periodicity*
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Time Factors