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Atten Percept Psychophys. 2010 Jul;72(5):1377-89. doi: 10.3758/APP.72.5.1377.

Modality effects in rhythm processing: Auditory encoding of visual rhythms is neither obligatory nor automatic.

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Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA.


Modality effects in rhythm processing were examined using a tempo judgment paradigm, in which participants made speeding-up or slowing-down judgments for auditory and visual sequences. A key element of stimulus construction was that the expected pattern of tempo judgments for critical test stimuli depended on a beat-based encoding of the sequence. A model-based measure of degree of beat-based encoding computed from the pattern of tempo judgments revealed greater beat sensitivity for auditory rhythms than for visual rhythms. Visual rhythms with prior auditory exposure were more likely to show a pattern of tempo judgments similar to that for auditory rhythms than were visual rhythms without prior auditory exposure, but only for a beat period of 600 msec. Slowing down the rhythms eliminated the effect of prior auditory exposure on visual rhythm processing. Taken together, the findings in this study support the view that auditory rhythms demonstrate an advantage over visual rhythms in beat-based encoding and that the auditory encoding of visual rhythms can be facilitated with prior auditory exposure, but only within a limited temporal range. The broad conclusion from this research is that "hearing visual rhythms" is neither obligatory nor automatic, as was previously claimed by Guttman, Gilroy, and Blake (2005).

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