Aarhus University Seal

Cecilie Møller

Beat perception in polyrhythms: Time is structured in binary units

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskrift/Konferencebidrag i tidsskrift /Bidrag til avisTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review

In everyday life, we group and subdivide time to understand the sensory environment surrounding us. Organizing time in units, such as diurnal rhythms, phrases, and beat patterns, is fundamental to behavior, speech, and music. When listening to music, our perceptual system extracts and nests rhythmic regularities to create a hierarchical metrical structure that enables us to predict the timing of the next events. Foot tapping and head bobbing to musical rhythms are observable evidence of this process. In the special case of polyrhythms, at least two metrical structures compete to become the reference for these temporal regularities, rendering several possible beats with which we can synchronize our movements. While there is general agreement that tempo, pitch, and loudness influence beat perception in polyrhythms, we focused on the yet neglected influence of beat subdivisions, i.e., the least common denominator of a polyrhythm ratio. In three online experiments, 300 participants listened to a range of polyrhythms and tapped their index fingers in time with the perceived beat. The polyrhythms consisted of two simultaneously presented isochronous pulse trains with different ratios (2:3, 2:5, 3:4, 3:5, 4:5, 5:6) and different tempi. For ratios 2:3 and 3:4, we additionally manipulated the pitch of the pulse trains. Results showed a highly robust influence of subdivision grouping on beat perception. This was manifested as a propensity towards beats that are subdivided into two or four equally spaced units, as opposed to beats with three or more complex groupings of subdivisions. Additionally, lower pitched pulse trains were more often perceived as the beat. Our findings suggest that subdivisions, not beats, are the basic unit of beat perception, and that the principle underlying the binary grouping of subdivisions reflects a propensity towards simplicity. This preference for simple grouping is widely applicable to human perception and cognition of time.

TidsskriftPLOS ONE
StatusUdgivet - aug. 2021

Bibliografisk note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021Møller et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Se relationer på Aarhus Universitet Citationsformater

ID: 222130718