The sweet spot between predictability and surprise: Musical groove in brain, body, and social interactions

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Groove—defined as the pleasurable urge to move to a rhythm—depends on a fine-tuned interplay between predictability arising from repetitive rhythmic patterns, and surprise arising from rhythmic deviations, for example in the form of syncopation. The perfect balance between predictability and surprise is commonly found in rhythmic patterns with a moderate level of rhythmic complexity and represents the sweet spot of the groove experience. In contrast, rhythms with low or high complexity are usually associated with a weaker experience of groove because they are too boring to be engaging or too complex to be interpreted, respectively. Consequently, the relationship between rhythmic complexity and groove experience can be described by an inverted U-shaped function. We interpret this inverted U shape in light of the theory of predictive processing and provide perspectives on how rhythmic complexity and groove can help us to understand the underlying neural mechanisms linking temporal predictions, movement, and reward. A better understanding of these mechanisms can guide future approaches to improve treatments for patients with motor impairments, such as Parkinson’s disease, and to investigate prosocial aspects of interpersonal interactions that feature music, such as dancing. Finally, we present some open questions and ideas for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number906190
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


  • dance
  • entrainment
  • movement
  • music
  • Parkinson’s
  • predictive coding
  • rhythm
  • syncopation


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