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Proc Biol Sci. 2017 Nov 15;284(1866). pii: 20171455. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.1455.

Midbrain adaptation may set the stage for the perception of musical beat.

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Auditory Neuroscience Group, Department of Physiology, Anatomy, and Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.
UCL Ear Institute, 332 Grays Inn Rd, Kings Cross, London WC1X 8EE, UK.
Department of Biomedical Sciences, City University of Hong Kong, 1/F, Block 1, To Yuen Building, 31 To Yuen Street, Hong Kong


The ability to spontaneously feel a beat in music is a phenomenon widely believed to be unique to humans. Though beat perception involves the coordinated engagement of sensory, motor and cognitive processes in humans, the contribution of low-level auditory processing to the activation of these networks in a beat-specific manner is poorly understood. Here, we present evidence from a rodent model that midbrain preprocessing of sounds may already be shaping where the beat is ultimately felt. For the tested set of musical rhythms, on-beat sounds on average evoked higher firing rates than off-beat sounds, and this difference was a defining feature of the set of beat interpretations most commonly perceived by human listeners over others. Basic firing rate adaptation provided a sufficient explanation for these results. Our findings suggest that midbrain adaptation, by encoding the temporal context of sounds, creates points of neural emphasis that may influence the perceptual emergence of a beat.


beat; electrophysiology; perception; psychophysics; rhythm; temporal processing

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