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Psychol Sci. 2005 Jan;16(1):48-55.

Metrical categories in infancy and adulthood.

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Cornell University.


Intrinsic perceptual biases for simple duration ratios are thought to constrain the organization of rhythmic patterns in music. We tested that hypothesis by exposing listeners to folk melodies differing in metrical structure (simple or complex duration ratios), then testing them on alterations that preserved or violated the original metrical structure. Simple meters predominate in North American music, but complex meters are common in many other musical cultures. In Experiment 1, North American adults rated structure-violating alterations as less similar to the original version than structure-preserving alterations for simple-meter patterns but not for complex-meter patterns. In Experiment 2, adults of Bulgarian or Macedonian origin provided differential ratings to structure-violating and structure-preserving alterations in complex- as well as simple-meter contexts. In Experiment 3, 6-month-old infants responded differentially to structure-violating and structure-preserving alterations in both metrical contexts. These findings imply that the metrical biases of North American adults reflect enculturation processes rather than processing predispositions for simple meters.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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