Wednesday, August 01, 2007

'What paper did you like most?'

I’m currently in Montreal visiting the SMPC, a conference on music cognition with more than 150 papers from 21 countries in four days. What is the paper I liked most, half way the conference?

If I had to choose now, it would be a poster by Laurel Trainor and colleagues from McMaster University on the effects of the vestibular system on perception. Intriguing research. First, they replicated the effect of rocking movement on rhythm perception in adults, a result they showed for babies a few years ago. An ambiguous rhythmic pattern (|.|||.) was perceived in triple meter (>.>.>.) when a listener was moved in three, and it was perceived as duple (>..>..) when they were moved in two. Obvious in a way, but one of the few studies that actually shows an influence of movement on rhythm perception.

Interestingly, seeing some one else moving to the rhythm in two or three did not have such an disambiguating effect. That makes an important difference with mirror neuron system research that suggests a strong relation between doing and observing an action. Trainor and colleagues argue, and partially showed, that it therefore is likely the vestibular (or balance) system that causes this effect. With, as far as this was controlled for, no cognitive influence on the disambiguation like one might expect. Independent of the alternative explanations that might be possible, it is a striking result in the still little understood relation between music and movement.

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