Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Is beat induction species-specific? [Part 2]

It is a slowly but steadily unfolding story, with more and more evidence in support of it: The story revealing with what other species we share beat induction, a skill that is argued to be fundamental to music.

The ability to synchronize to the beat of the music has been demonstrated in several parrot species and, apparently, one elephant species, supporting the vocal learning and rhythmic synchronization hypothesis, which posits that vocal learning provides a neurobiological foundation for auditory–motor entrainment.

While earlier experiments with parrots and related animals were criticized mainly for their relatively informal setup (e.g. using existing YouTube videos or analyzing home-made video’s), a few weeks ago an elegant and systematic study appeared in Nature Scientific Reports in which budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulates), a vocal-learning parrot species, were trained to synchronize to a metronome. A study that can be considered an important first step towards understanding the timing control mechanism in vocal learners.

Video example of budgerigar doing a tapping task (Source).

Unfortunately, they were trained only to a (visual and auditory) metronome, and not a rhythmically varying acoustic signal (read: music), so we are still not sure this is indeed a case of beat induction. And is the bird in the video not simply reacting, instead of anticipating (predicting negative phase) as humans do?

Also, to be real support for the vocal learning (or vocal mimicking) hypothesis, additional experiments are still needed. Most notably an experiment that tests whether related species that are not vocal learners, such as doves, are incapable of the learning that the budgerigars show. (I know that at least one cognitive biologist is willing to pick up the glove :-) Hasegawa, A., Okanoya, K., Hasegawa, T., & Seki, Y. (2011). Rhythmic synchronization tapping to an audio–visual metronome in budgerigars Scientific Reports, 1 DOI: 10.1038/srep00120

Saturday, November 26, 2011

TEDxAmsterdam: What makes us musical animals?

Research and references mentioned in the talk can be found in the book cited below. More video reports can be found at the TEDxChannel.

ResearchBlogging.orgHoning, H. (2011) Musical Cognition. A Science of Listening. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-1-4128-4228-0.

ResearchBlogging.orgZarco, W., Merchant, H., Prado, L., & Mendez, J. (2009). Subsecond Timing in Primates: Comparison of Interval Production Between Human Subjects and Rhesus Monkeys Journal of Neurophysiology, 102 (6), 3191-3202 DOI: 10.1152/jn.00066.2009

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

What is the role of consciousness in auditory perception?

István Winkler
On Tuesday 15 November 2011 prof. dr István Winkler (Hungarian Academy of Sciences) will give the monthly CSCA lecture in Amsterdam. He is visiting the Music Cognition Group for two days.

Winkler will talk about his recent research in auditory perception and its role and functioning in the newborn brain. He will argue that the representation of a sound organization in the brain is a coalition of auditory regularity representations producing compatible predictions for the continuation of the sound input. Competition between alternative sound organizations relies on comparing the regularity representations on how reliably they predict incoming sounds and how much together they explain from the total variance of the acoustic input. Results obtained in perceptual studies using the auditory streaming paradigm will be interpreted in support of the hypothesis that regularity representations underlie auditory stream segregation.

Furthermore, Winkler will argue that the same regularity representations are involved in the deviance-detection process reflected by the mismatch negativity (MMN) event-related potential (ERP).

Finally, based on the hypothesized link between auditory scene analysis and deviance detection, Winkler will propose a functional model of sound organization and discuss how it can be implemented in a computational model.

For more information (time and location), see the CSCA website.

ResearchBlogging.orgNäätänen R, Kujala T, & Winkler I (2011). Auditory processing that leads to conscious perception: a unique window to central auditory processing opened by the mismatch negativity and related responses. Psychophysiology, 48 (1), 4-22 PMID: 20880261.

ResearchBlogging.orgWinkler I, Denham SL, & Nelken I (2009). Modeling the auditory scene: predictive regularity representations and perceptual objects. Trends in cognitive sciences, 13 (12), 532-40 PMID: 19828357

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Is beat induction species-specific? [Part 1]

Beat induction (BI) is the cognitive skill that allows us to hear a regular pulse in music to which we can then synchronize. Perceiving this regularity in music allows us to dance and make music together. As such it can be considered a fundamental musical trait that, arguably, played a decisive role in the origin of music (see also earlier entries of this blog). Furthermore, BI has been argued to be a spontaneously developing, domain-specific and species-specific skill.

With regard to the first aspect, recent studies with infants and newborns provide some evidence suggesting such early bias (Honing et al., 2009). With regard to the second aspect convincing evidence is still lacking, although it was recently argued that BI does not play a role (or is even avoided) in spoken language (Patel, 2008). And with regard to the latter aspect, it was recently suggested that we might share BI with a selected group of bird species (Fitch, 2009) and not with more closely related species such as nonhuman primates.(Zarco et al., 2009). This is surprising when one assumes a close mapping between specific genotypes and specific cognitive traits. However, more and more studies show that genetically distantly related species can show similar cognitive skill, and this offers a rich basis for comparative studies of this specific cognitive function.

Most animal studies have used behavioral methods to probe the presence (or absence) of BI, such as tapping tasks or measuring head bobs. It might well be that if more direct electrophysiological measures are used (such as analogs of the MMN), nonhuman primates might indeed also show BI.

Its this hypothesis that that is the topic of a new and exiting collaboration of our group with that of Hugo Merchant at the Institute of Neurobiology in Querétaro, Mexico. This week we started a series of experiments with Rhesus Macaques using the same paradigm we used in our earlier newborn studies.

ResearchBlogging.orgFitch, W. (2009). Biology of Music: Another One Bites the Dust Current Biology, 19 (10) DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.04.004

ResearchBlogging.orgHoning H, Ladinig O, Háden GP, & Winkler I (2009). Is beat induction innate or learned? Probing emergent meter perception in adults and newborns using event-related brain potentials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1169, 93-6 PMID: 19673760

ResearchBlogging.orgPatel, A. D. (2008). Music, language, and the brain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

ResearchBlogging.orgZarco, W., Merchant, H., Prado, L., & Mendez, J. (2009). Subsecond Timing in Primates: Comparison of Interval Production Between Human Subjects and Rhesus Monkeys Journal of Neurophysiology, 102 (6), 3191-3202 DOI: 10.1152/jn.00066.2009