Friday, June 27, 2008

Is beat induction special? (Part 4)

Beat induction has been a recurring topic on this blog. The topic was also the focus at the opening symposium of the Neurosciences and Music Conference, currently being held in Montreal, Canada. Especially researchers like Jessica A. Grahn (Cognition and Brain Science Unit, Cambridge), Joel S. Snyder (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), Ed W. Large (Florida Atlantic University) and John R. Iversen (Neursosciences Institute, San Diego) talked about different aspects of beat perception and synchonization in relation to the structure of the brain.

While there is quite some agreement that auditory rhythm processing is associated with movement and auditory brain areas, also some deeper brain areas were proposed as candidates. An elegant series of studies was presented by Joyce L. Chen (McGill University, Montreal) that went a step further in looking for patterns in how these brain areas might be interrelated. She could show (using a very nice design in which behavioral data informs and helps the analyses of brain imaging data) an intimate linkage between the auditory and premotor brain circuit, a link that was suggested to be “at the core of what links music, movement and language together”.

However, in how far beat induction is special –in the sense that it might be a uniquely human trait (see earlier blog)– is still under much discussion. Ed W. Large (Florida State University) mentioned in his talk yesterday that he is currently testing bonobo’s on having beat induction (Needless to say that he is optimistic on that, but the results will only be published later this year). This morning Aniruddh D. Patel (The Neurosciences Institute, San Diego) presented a poster with the first data of the ‘dancing cockatoo’ (mentioned in an earlier blog). Below a short compilation of some of the recordings that Patel’s group analyzed and presented here at the Neurosciences and Music conference (with the kind permission of Ani Patel):

The video is convincing in suggesting that the cockatoo seems to be really sensitive -at least in these fragments- to the tempo of the music and can be argued to really listen and able to pick up the induced beat. When looking at the actual measurements however, the story is less convincing. Five video’s where recorded, of which three had to be rejected because the experimenter might have moved along while the video was made. In the remaining two video’s ‘successful’ dancing on the beat was ranging between 2.5% to 20% of the trials (an episode of say one minute of dancing). Part of the problem, quite interesting from a methodological and statistical point of view, is how to show that all this is better than chance.

Patel, A.D., et al., . (2008). Investigating the human-specificity of synchronization to music. In: M. Adachi et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the International Music Perception and Cognition Conference (ICMPC10), Sapporo: Japan / Adelaide: Causal Productions.


  1. Great to have found your blog. Incidentally, I recently got back from the Neurosciences and Music conference in Montreal as well. I will keep checking your blog on a regular bases.

    When you have the time, please check out my blog as well at:

    In all honesty, it is still in its nascent stages.

  2. The first time Snowball danced for me was when he was on my arm and no one made a move to prompt him to dance to the Backstreet Boys tune. Witnessing this bird's remarkable interest in music and dance in person would convince any skeptic that his dancing does not involve chance.
    Irena Schulz
    Bird Lovers Only Rescue Service, Inc.
    Home of Snowball the dancing cockatoo

  3. Dear Irena Schulz,
    There is no doubt in mind that he is dancing, and enjoying it too. What I'm interested in is, is he picking up the beat by listening or is he dancing quite unrelated to the music possibly picking up cues from other things than the beat of the music itself. The statistics that were presented in the reference above can't decide on that as yet.

  4. I attended the Spinoza debate with Henkjan Koning this week and the video of Snowball moving to the music was shown there as well. During the debate Henkjan Koning asked for suggestions to test wether Snowball was actually listening to music or not and that's an interesting question. I have no answer to that, the only thing I can offer is an observation and a suggestion.

    As I understand it, Snowballs musicality or ability to listen to music was tested by changing the tempo of his favourite song and see if he would still be able to move along with it. To me that seems a way to test his ability to "dance" instead of testing his ability to listen to music.

    During the debate we saw a video of babies listening to music to test if they had a sense of musicality and the method used to measure that was completely different. If I recall it correctly the people involved in the experiment used the head movement of babies to see wether they reacted to music and things in the music that were unexpected (like missing a beat at an important point.)

    If you want to test Snowballs ability to listen to music, it might be better to watch for his reaction to changes in the music he obviously likes.