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A critical cross-cultural study of sensorimotor and groove responses to syncopation among Ghanaian and American university students and staff

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  • Maria A. G. Witek, University of Birmingham
  • ,
  • Jingyi Liu, Harvard University
  • ,
  • John Kuubertzie, Univ Cape Coast, University of Cape Coast
  • ,
  • Appiah Poku Yankyera, Life Developers Movement
  • ,
  • Senyo Adzei, Univ Cape Coast, University of Cape Coast
  • ,
  • Peter Vuust

THE PLEASURABLE DESIRE TO MOVE TO A BEAT IS known as groove and is partly explained by rhythmic syncopation. While many contemporary groove-directed genres originated in the African diaspora, groove music psychology has almost exclusively studied European or North American listeners. While cross-cultural approaches can help us understand how different populations respond to music, comparing African and Western musical behaviors has historically tended to rely on stereotypes. Here we report on two studies in which sensorimotor and groove responses to syncopation were measured in university students and staff from Cape Coast, Ghana and Williamstown, MA, United States. In our experimental designs and interpretations, we show sensitivity towards the ethical implications of doing cross-cultural research in an African context. The Ghanaian group showed greater synchronization precision than Americans during monophonic syncopated patterns, but this was not reflected in synchronization accuracy. There was no significant group difference in the pleasurable desire to move. Our results have implications for how we understand the relationship between exposure and synchronization, and how we define syncopation in cultural and musical contexts. We hope our critical approach to cross-cultural comparison contributes to developing music psychology into a more inclusive and culturally grounded field.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMusic Perception
Pages (from-to)278-297
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

    Research areas

  • BODY-MOVEMENT, ENGAGEMENT, EVERYDAY LIFE, METER, MUSIC, PERCEPTION, PSYCHOLOGY, RHYTHM, SYNCHRONIZATION, cross-cultural research, groove, rhythm, synchronization, syncopation

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