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Rhythm and beat perception are critical for synchronized musical movement and may also influence some aspects of speech perception. Previous studies show that adults and children can entrain their movements to a musical beat. However, few studies have disentangled surface information from the internal beat percept, and no studies have done so with young listeners. In this experiment, we presented listeners aged 4-23 years with a musical excerpt that induced one of two beat patterns, followed by an ambiguous phase during which they heard a rhythm that could match either beat pattern. In a final probe phase, listeners indicated whether a drummer did or did not match the beat of the music. Younger children (age 4-7 years) were not able to distinguish matching and mismatching drum patterns above chance. Older children (age 8-17 years) and adults accurately identified matching and mismatching drum patterns. Crucially, performance did not reach adult-like levels until about 13 years, suggesting that the ability to sustain a beat continues to develop through early adolescence. Since previous studies have suggested that rhythmic abilities are related to phonological awareness, we administered the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP) to participants. A hierarchical regression indicated that performance on the beat perception task was a significant predictor of phonology. Overall, results suggest older children are capable of self-sustained and long-lasting beat perception, which is related to phonological language ability. However, self-sustained beat skills do not become adult-like until adolescence, suggesting that beat perception may have a more gradual developmental trajectory.

Publication Date

Spring 2021




Psychology; Neuroscience; Child development; Music



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Faculty Mentor: Erin Hannon, Ph.D.

Sustained Beat Perception Develops through Adolescence, and is Predictive of Phonology

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Psychology Commons