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The Effect of Visual Information on Young Children’s Perceptual Sensitivity to Musical Beat Alignment

In: Timing & Time Perception
Authors:
Kathleen M. EinarsonDepartment of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada

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Laurel J. TrainorDepartment of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada
McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada
Rotman Research Institute, Baycrest Centre, Toronto, ON M6A 2E1, Canada

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Recent work examined five-year-old children’s perceptual sensitivity to musical beat alignment. In this work, children watched pairs of videos of puppets drumming to music with simple or complex metre, where one puppet’s drumming sounds (and movements) were synchronized with the beat of the music and the other drummed with incorrect tempo or phase. The videos were used to maintain children’s interest in the task. Five-year-olds were better able to detect beat misalignments in simple than complex metre music. However, adults can perform poorly when attempting to detect misalignment of sound and movement in audiovisual tasks, so it is possible that the moving stimuli actually hindered children’s performance. Here we compared children’s sensitivity to beat misalignment in conditions with dynamic visual movement versus still (static) visual images. Eighty-four five-year-old children performed either the same task as described above or a task that employed identical auditory stimuli accompanied by a motionless picture of the puppet with the drum. There was a significant main effect of metre type, replicating the finding that five-year-olds are better able to detect beat misalignment in simple metre music. There was no main effect of visual condition. These results suggest that, given identical auditory information, children’s ability to judge beat misalignment in this task is not affected by the presence or absence of dynamic visual stimuli. We conclude that at five years of age, children can tell if drumming is aligned to the musical beat when the music has simple metric structure.

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