Title: Using songbirds to explore auditory-motor interactions during musical rhythm perception
Isochrony, or roughly equal timing between event onsets, is widespread in human music. This rhythmic pattern plays a key role in eliciting synchronized movement and in the beneficial effects of rhythm on a variety of neurological disorders, including facilitating gait in Parkinson’s disease. How does the brain recognize an auditory pattern as isochronous? The neural mechanisms some species use to recognize isochronous acoustic signals (e.g., female field crickets recognizing a male’s song) are well understood, but these mechanisms are tuned to a specific tempo and do not respond to isochronous patterns at other rates. Humans, in contrast, flexibly recognize isochrony across a broad range of rates. This involves perceiving rhythms in terms of relations between successive time intervals, not just in terms of absolute interval durations. This facility with “relative timing” is foundational to human music perception, and research suggests that the underlying neural mechanisms are distinct from those in single-interval or “absolute” timing. Neuroimaging reveals that when humans perceive auditory rhythms with an underlying isochronous pulse, there is strong activity in motor planning regions even in the absence of movement. We and others have theorized that this motor activity plays a role in predicting the timing of upcoming auditory events, with predictive signals flowing to auditory regions via motor-to-auditory neural pathways. Such predictions could provide a mechanism for relative timing and thus support flexible rhythm pattern perception. In this talk I will discuss our work on isochrony perception in vocal learning songbirds and explain why we believe them to be a promising animal model for studying the neural mechanisms of auditory-motor interactions during rhythm perception.
Dr. Patel is a Professor of Psychology at Tufts University.
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