Thursday, April 03, 2008

Can newborns make sense of rhythm? (Part 2)

In search of the origins of music perception, our European research consortium (named EmCAP) investigates questions such as whether or not newborns possess the ability to process music. However, while we all intuitively feel that babies like rhythms and melodies, we don’t know how they perceive music. This week the MTAPI team started a first series of experiments to test whether rhythm and meter perception is active in newborn infants.

Our hypothesis is that a rhythmic stimulus (we use a simple drum pattern), when occasionally modified in two distinct metrical positions (a temporal oddball), should be perceived more easily as a deviation if the modification happens in a metrically strong position as compared to one in a weaker metrical position, as such indicating that a metrical expectation is active. These so-called oddballs are expected to elicit the mismatch negativity (MMN) event related brain potential (ERP), a well-known response that is elicited by violations of a detected acoustic regularity.

One of the reasons this particular method was chosen was that it allows us to use the same technique and the same rhythmic stimuli for both adult non-musicians and newborn infants. The preliminary results confirm the hypothesis for adults. Needless to say we are more than curious for what the newborn study will show us. We hope to present the first results at the upcoming Neurosciences and Music conference in Montreal this summer.

Honing, H., Ladinig, O., Winkler, I., Haden, G. (in press) Probing emergent meter perception in adults (and newborns) using event-related brain potentials: a pilot study. Proceedings of the Neurosciences and music III Conference. Montreal: McGill University.

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