Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Erin E. Hannon

Second Committee Member

Joel S. Snyder

Third Committee Member

Mark H. Ashcraft

Fourth Committee Member

Eugenie Burkett

Number of Pages



Our ability to process rhythmic patterns is constrained by the complexity of its interval structure. The goal of the present study was to explore the cognitive demands and neural mechanisms for processing simple and complex meters, and the extent to which they are modulated by culture-specific experience. The first experiment explored the argument that perception of rhythm is guided by a domain-general ability to process quantity, and that processing simple and complex meter rhythms requires different cognitive strategies. Rhythm perception was assessed by testing listeners’ ability to detect disruptions in simple and complex meter melodies. Proficiency with numerosity judgments was measured by using visual and auditory enumeration tasks. Results showed that individual performance on simple meter trials correlated with: performance on the more automatic enumeration of small quantities (the “subitizing range”) and with performance on the more effortful enumeration of larger quantities (the “counting range”). In contrast, performance on complex meter trials only correlated with performance in the counting range, and with working memory capacity.

The second experiment used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain responses as listeners were asked to mentally place a beat on one of two positions (subjective accents), with rhythms varying in metrical complexity. To assess the role of prior experience on rhythm perception, Non-Western listeners (from India and Bulgaria) and Western listeners (from North America) were tested separately. Western music consists of metrical subdivisions predominantly associated by simple ratios, but music from cultures like India and Bulgaria frequently contains complex ratio meters. N1 response amplitude pointed to differences in simple and complex meter processing, even in those for whom they are equally familiar, with larger amplitudes at the start of the trial and smaller amplitudes subsequently within a trial. The results from the two experiments reveal greater cognitive demands on complex meter processing, and an effect of culture on attenuating (instead of causing) these constraints.


Cross-cultural; Domain specificity; ERP; Event related potential; Indian music; Listening; Mathematical cognition; Meter processing; Musical meter and rhythm


Cognitive Psychology | Musicology | Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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