Optimal Encoding of Interval Timing in Expert Percussionists, J Neurosci, 3 (32), 1056-1060.
We measured temporal reproduction in human subjects with various levels of musical expertise: expert drummers, string musicians, and non-musicians. While duration reproduction of the non-percussionists showed a characteristic central tendency or regression to the mean, drummers responded veridically. Furthermore, when the stimuli were auditory tones rather than flashes, all subjects responded veridically. The behavior of all three groups in both modalities is well explained by a Bayesian model that seeks to minimize reproduction errors by incorporating a central tendency prior, a probability density function centered at the mean duration of the sample. We measured separately temporal precision thresholds with a bisection task; thresholds were twice as low in drummers as in the other two groups. These estimates of temporal precision, together with an adaptable Bayesian prior, predict well the reproduction results and the central tendency strategy under all conditions and for all subject groups. These results highlight the efficiency and flexibility of sensorimotor mechanisms estimating temporal duration.