Musical Meter Directs the Hierarchical Allocation of Attention in Time

Ahren Fitzroy, Lisa D. Sanders – Neuroscience and Behavior Program, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Poster presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, Montreal, QC

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When perceptual systems are overwhelmed by information changing rapidly, listeners can use temporally selective attention to preferentially process the most critical information. Event-related brain potential (ERP) research has shown that temporally selective attention affects early perceptual processing as indexed by the amplitude of the first negative peak 100 ms after sound onset (N1) in a manner similar to that observed for auditory spatially selective attention. Further, the difference in ERPs elicited by sounds at attended and unattended times is larger when the attended time is cued by an isochronous pulse rather than explicit instruction alone. These findings are consistent with entrainment models of dynamic attending that propose attentional resources fluctuate, phase-locked to external rhythms. Entrainment models also predict that hierarchically organized exogenous rhythms will induce a hierarchical distribution of attention across time; the current study employed the hierarchical rhythmic structure found in Western music to test this hypothesis. Auditory evoked potentials elicited by physically identical stimuli presented at times of relative strength and weakness in the metric hierarchies of short melodies were compared in musicians and musically naïve individuals. Sounds presented at points of metric strength elicited larger amplitude N1s than the same sounds presented at points of metric weakness. This result suggests that multiple exogenous periodicities induce a hierarchical allocation of temporally selective attention without explicit instruction and provides electrophysiological support for entrainment models of dynamic attending.

Stimuli presented on poster:

Ex. 1 – Duple, isochronous, slow

Ex. 2 – Duple, patterned, fast

Ex. 3 – Triple, patterned, slow

Ex. 4 – Triple, isochronous, fast