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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2001 Jun;930:17-27.

The quest for universals in temporal processing in music.

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Laboratoire de Psychologie Expérimentale, CNRS UMR 8581, Université René Descartes, Institut de Psychologie, Centre Universitaire de Boulogne, avenue Edouard Vaillant, 92774 Boulogne-Billancourt, France.


Music perception and performance rely heavily on temporal processing: for instance, each event must be situated in time in relation to surrounding events, and events must be grouped together in order to overcome memory constraints. The temporal structure of music varies considerably from one culture to another, and so it has often been supposed that the specific implementation of perceptual and cognitive temporal processes will differ as a function of an individual's cultural exposure and experience. In this paper we examine the alternative position that some temporal processes may be universal, in the sense that they function in a similar manner irrespective of an individual's cultural exposure and experience. We first review rhythm perception and production studies carried out with adult musicians, adult nonmusicians, children, and infants in order to identify temporal processes that appear to function in a similar fashion irrespective of age, acculturation, and musical training. This review leads to the identification of five temporal processes that we submit as candidates for the status of "temporal universals." For each process, we select the simplest and most representative experimental paradigm that has been used to date. This leads to a research proposal for future intercultural studies that could test the universal nature of these processes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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