Symposia abstracts > Monday 23rd October 2.30pm-3.45pm

Musical rhythm: Evolutionary and Cross-cultural Perspectives (Andrea Ravignani & Nori Jacoby)

Speakers: Aniruddh D. Patel (USA & Canada), Jessica A. Grahn (Canada), Nori Jacoby (USA), Andrea Ravignani (The Netherlands)


Musical rhythm is a ubiquitous feature of the human species (Patel 2010). Around the world, rich rhythmic and musical structures originate from complex interactions between biological and culturally determined mechanisms (Fitch 2017). Cross- cultural and cross-species research offer complementary roles in the understanding of the origin of musical rhythm: the former can provide evidence for features that differ from culture to culture, whereas the latter point to biologically determined mechanisms that are shared between humans and other animals. In the past few years, paradigms from psychology and music cognition that were previously run predominantly on North American and European subjects have been increasingly incorporated within cross-cultural settings. At the same time, music cognition paradigms have also been increasingly adapted to animal research, providing striking evidence that, given appropriate training, some animals can successfully complete tasks previously considered specific to humans.  The crucial bottleneck limiting progress in both fields is the relative lack of paradigms that can be applied in wider experimental contexts (Trehub 2015). Moreover, three approaches in research on timing have been historically separated. First, the psychology of timing and time perception have been studied in meticulously controlled laboratory experiments. Second, temporal patterns in animal behavior have been investigated by pure behavioral observation, with lack of interest to connect their findings to human cognition. Third, study of the temporal dimension of music, i.e. rhythm, has fallen in the domain of the humanities (classical musicology) and social sciences (cultural anthropology).

This symposium showcases work that traverses these domains. Two of the papers describe implementations of a recent experimental technique known as “iterated learning” to rhythm. In iterated learning, participants are asked to reproduce random rhythms; their reproductions are fed back as the stimulus, forming a chain of stimuli that are increasingly dominated by cognitive and productive biases. Ravignani and colleagues use the technique to simulate cultural transmission in the lab, featuring miniature societies of interacting individuals in a controlled environment (and hinting at possible connections with natural animal timing). Jacoby and McDermott use the same technique to extract internal representation of rhythms, showing that the technique can be successfully applied on individuals without musical experience and from a wide range of cultural backgrounds. Grahn and Cameron show how EEG- based music cognition paradigms can be adapted to reveal implicit culturally dependent rhythm processing in individuals from Canada and Africa, while Patel and colleagues show how eye movements can produce predictive and tempo-flexible synchronization in monkeys, behaviors that were recently regarded as human specific. Taken together, these works reveal that challenges and promise of empirically studying the origin of rhythm from both cross-cultural and cross-species perspectives. 




Timing and Conditioning: A Contemporary Overview (Domhnall Jennings & Charlotte Bonardi)

Speakers: Domhnall Jennings (UK), David Sanderson (UK), Randy Gallistel (USA), Charlotte Bonardi (UK)

Timing has always occupied a central place in conditioning theory: the conditioning process is engaged by events that are temporally contiguous, and conditioning speed is profoundly affected by temporal factors. Moreover, conditioning tasks result in timing: animals will learn not only that the conditioned stimulus (CS) predicts the unconditioned stimulus (US), but also when that US will occur. But the close relationship between these two phenomena is not mirrored in the theories proposed to explain them. Theories of conditioning and timing are focussed on explaining different aspects of the learned behaviour, often using different behavioural measures.  As a consequence most conditioning theories typically offer little explanation of timing, while established timing theories often struggle to account for the broad range of phenomena revealed in conditioning studies (Kirkpatrick, 2014).  More recent work has begun to bridge this theoretical chasm, and both timing and conditioning theories have been adapted to encompass a much broader range of effects. In addition more effort has been devoted to exploring the interaction between conditioning and timing manipulations on behaviour. The objective of this symposium is to provide a brief contemporary overview of this research.

Bonardi and Jennings' work aims to explore the effect of temporal factors on conditioning, and of conditioning manipulations on timing. Jennings & Bonardi report the results of experiments exploring the effect of latent inhibition training - preexposure of the CS prior to CS-US pairings, which typically retards acquisition of conditioned responding - on timing ability. Their findings suggest that CS preexposure both retards conditioning but enhances timing accuracy. Bonardi & Jennings describe the results of a trace conditioning task, in which a fixed-duration CS is followed by the US after a trace interval which could either be of fixed or variable duration. The results suggest that the CS acquired greater associative strength when the trace interval was variable.  Sanderson & Austin's presentation focusses on the neural bases of conditioning and timing behaviour, in a report of work with mice lacking the GluA1 subunit of the AMPA receptor. These animals fail to show the normal attenuation of learning that is seen with longer-duration CSs. In an elegant series of experiments they demonstrate that this is due to a lack of sensitivity to rate of reinforcement, accompanied by normal sensitivity to number of CS/US pairings.  Gallistel's contribution represents the information-processing approach to explaining both conditioning and timing effects. This eschews conditioning theory's usual focus on the trial (a CS-US pairing) in favour of a more global and mathematical analysis of the prevailing environmental conditions. In this presentation Gallistel focusses on the phenomenon of inhibitory learning, in which a CS signals the omission of an otherwise expected US (No-US). The trial-based approach of associative theories struggles to explain events that have not occurred, and Gallistel explores the possibility that this uncertainty might be more fruitfully examined by applying a hazard function to the probability that a reinforcing event will occur. 

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