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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2015 Oct;41(5):1336-52. doi: 10.1037/xhp0000085. Epub 2015 Jun 22.

Auditory and motor contributions to the timing of melodies under cognitive load.

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Ghent University.
Leuven University.


Current theoretical models and empirical research suggest that sensorimotor control and feedback processes may guide time perception and production. In the current study, we investigated the role of motor control and auditory feedback in an interval-production task performed under heightened cognitive load. We hypothesized that general associative learning mechanisms enable the calibration of time against patterns of dynamic change in motor control processes and auditory feedback information. In Experiment 1, we applied a dual-task interference paradigm consisting of a finger-tapping (continuation) task in combination with a working memory task. Participants (nonmusicians) had to either perform or avoid arm movements between successive key presses (continuous vs. discrete). Auditory feedback from a key press (a piano tone) filled either the complete duration of the target interval or only a small part (long vs. short). Results suggested that both continuous movement control and long piano feedback tones contributed to regular timing production. In Experiment 2, we gradually adjusted the duration of the long auditory feedback tones throughout the duration of a trial. The results showed that a gradual shortening of tones throughout time increased the rate at which participants performed tone onsets. Overall, our findings suggest that the human perceptual-motor system may be important in guiding temporal behavior under cognitive load.

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