The present study tested two assumptions concerning the auditory processing of microtiming in musical grooves (i.e., repeating, movement-inducing rhythmic patterns): 1) Microtiming challenges the listener's internal framework of timing regularities, or meter, and demands cognitive effort. 2) Microtiming promotes a “groove” experience—a pleasant sense of wanting to move along with the music. Using professional jazz musicians and nonmusicians as participants, we hypothesized that microtiming asynchronies between bass and drums (varying from −80 to 80 ms) were related to a) an increase in “mental effort” (as indexed by pupillometry), and b) a decrease in the quality of sensorimotor synchronization (as indexed by reduced finger tapping stability). We found bass/drums-microtiming asynchronies to be positively related to pupil dilation and negatively related to tapping stability. In contrast, we found that steady timekeeping (presence of eighth note hi-hat in the grooves) decreased pupil size and increased tapping performance, though there were no conclusive differences in pupil response between musicians and nonmusicians. However, jazz musicians consistently tapped with higher stability than nonmusicians, reflecting an effect of rhythmic expertise. Except for the condition most closely resembling real music, participants preferred the on-the-grid grooves to displacements in microtiming and bass-succeeding-drums-conditions were preferred over the reverse.
Microtiming and Mental Effort: Onset Asynchronies in Musical Rhythm Modulate Pupil Size
We are grateful to Jakop Filip Janssønn Hauan for playing and recording the drums on the auditory stimuli; Martin Torvik Langerød (MTL) for engineering the double bass recordings and preparing the experimental sound clips; Kristian Nymoen for preparation of tapping data with custom MATLAB analyses and design of Figure 2; Peter Vuust, Dag Erik Eilertsen and Rebekah Oomen for advice at earlier stages of the manuscript; and Lara Katrina Garvija (LKG) for testing some of the participants. This work was partially supported by the Research Council of Norway through its Centres of Excellence scheme (Project 262762) and the TIME project (Grant 249817).
The experimental raw data from the eye-tracker is publicly available in four folders on Figshare. Web addresses (DOI) are: 10.6084/m9.figshare.8246189; 10.6084/m9.figshare.8246201; 10.6084/m9.figshare.8246213; 10.6084/m9.figshare.8246273
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Jo Fougner Skaansar, Bruno Laeng, Anne Danielsen; Microtiming and Mental Effort: Onset Asynchronies in Musical Rhythm Modulate Pupil Size. Music Perception 1 December 2019; 37 (2): 111–133. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/mp.2019.37.2.111
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