Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Joel Snyder

Second Committee Member

Erin Hannon

Third Committee Member

David Copeland

Fourth Committee Member

Jessica Teague

Number of Pages



Performing, listening, and moving to music are universal human behaviors. Most music in the world is organized temporally with faster periodicities nested within slower periodicities, creating a perceptual hierarchy of repeating stronger (downbeat) and weaker (upbeat) events. This perceptual organization is theorized to aid our abilities to synchronize our behaviors with music and other individuals, but there is scant empirical evidence that listeners actively perceive these multiple levels of temporal periodicities simultaneously. Furthermore, there is conflicting evidence about when, and how, the ability to perceive the beat in music emerges during development. It is also unclear if this hierarchical organization of musical time is unique to – or heavily reliant upon – the precise timing capabilities of the auditory system, or if it is found in other sensory systems. Across three series of experiments, I investigated whether listeners perceive multiple levels of structure simultaneously, how experience and expertise influence this ability, the emergence of meter perception in development, and how strong the auditory advantage for beat and meter perception is over visual meter perception. In Chapter 1, I demonstrated that older, but not younger, infants showed evidence of the beginnings of beat perception in their ability to distinguish between synchronous and asynchronous audiovisual displays of dancers moving to music. In Chapter 2, I demonstrated that adults, but not children, showed evidence of perceiving multiple levels of metrical structure simultaneously in complex, human-performed music, and this ability was not greatly dependent upon formal musical training. Older children were more sensitive to beat than younger children, suggesting beat and meter perception develops gradually throughout childhood into adolescence. However, perception of multiple levels of meter was not evident in younger children, and likely does not emerge until late adolescence. Formal musical training was associated with enhanced meter perception in adults and beat perception in children. In Chapter 3, both adults and children demonstrated an auditory advantage for beat perception over visual. However, adults did not show an auditory advantage for the perception of slower beat levels (measure) or the perception of multiple beat levels simultaneously. Children did not show evidence of measure-level perception in either modality, but their ability to perceive the beat in both auditory and visual metronomes improved with age. Overall, the results of the three series of experiments demonstrate that beat and meter perception develop quite gradually throughout childhood, rely on lifelong acquisition of musical knowledge, and that there is a distinct auditory advantage for the perception of beat.


Beat perception; Development; Meter perception; Music; Music cognition; Sensation and perception


Cognitive Psychology | Developmental Psychology | Psychology

File Format


File Size

2600 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




IN COPYRIGHT. For more information about this rights statement, please visit