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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2012 Jun;38(3):543-8. doi: 10.1037/a0027225. Epub 2012 Feb 20.

Familiarity overrides complexity in rhythm perception: a cross-cultural comparison of American and Turkish listeners.

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Department of Psychology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 Maryland Parkway, Box 455030, Las Vegas, NV 89514, USA.


Despite the ubiquity of dancing and synchronized movement to music, relatively few studies have examined cognitive representations of musical rhythm and meter among listeners from contrasting cultures. We aimed to disentangle the contributions of culture-general and culture-specific influences by examining American and Turkish listeners' detection of temporal disruptions (varying in size from 50-250 ms in duration) to three types of stimuli: simple rhythms found in both American and Turkish music, complex rhythms found only in Turkish music, and highly complex rhythms that are rare in all cultures. Americans were most accurate when detecting disruptions to the simple rhythm. However, they performed less accurately but comparably in both the complex and highly complex conditions. By contrast, Turkish participants performed accurately and indistinguishably in both simple and complex conditions. However, they performed less accurately in the unfamiliar, highly complex condition. Together, these experiments implicate a crucial role of culture-specific listening experience and acquired musical knowledge in rhythmic pattern perception.

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