Musical training generalises across modalities and reveals efficient and adaptive mechanisms for reproducing temporal intervals,Acta Psychol (Amst), (147), 25-33.
Expert musicians are able to time their actions accurately and consistently during a musical performance. We investigated how musical expertise influences the ability to reproduce auditory intervals and how this generalises across different techniques and sensory modalities. We first compared various reproduction strategies and interval length, to examine the effects in general and to optimise experimental conditions for testing the effect of music, and found that the effects were robust and consistent across different paradigms. Focussing on a ‘ready-set-go’ paradigm subjects reproduced time intervals drawn from distributions varying in total length (176, 352 or 704 ms) or in the number of discrete intervals within the total length (3, 5, 11 or 21 discrete intervals). Overall, Musicians performed more veridical than Non-Musicians, and all subjects reproduced auditory-defined intervals more accurately than visually-defined intervals. However, Non-Musicians, particularly with visual stimuli, consistently exhibited a substantial and systematic regression towards the mean interval. When subjects judged intervals from distributions of longer total length they tended to regress more towards the mean, while the ability to discriminate between discrete intervals within the distribution had little influence on subject error. These results are consistent with a Bayesian model that minimizes reproduction errors by incorporating a central tendency prior weighted by the subject’s own temporal precision relative to the current distribution of intervals. Finally a strong correlation was observed between all durations of formal musical training and total reproduction errors in both modalities (accounting for 30% of the variance). Taken together these results demonstrate that formal musical training improves temporal reproduction, and that this improvement transfers from audition to vision. They further demonstrate the flexibility of sensorimotor mechanisms in adapting to different task conditions to minimise temporal estimation errors.