Commonality and variation in mental representations of music revealed by a cross-cultural comparison of rhythm priors in 15 countries

Jacoby, Nori; Polak, Rainer; Grahn, Jessica A.; Cameron, Daniel J.; Lee, Kyung Myun; Godoy, Ricardo; Undurraga, Eduardo A.; Huanca, Tomás; Thalwitzer, Timon; Doumbia, Noumouké; Goldberg, Daniel; Margulis, Elizabeth H.; Wong, Patrick C. M.; Jure, Luis; Rocamora, Martín; Fujii, Shinya; Savage, Patrick E.; Ajimi, Jun; Konno, Rei; Oishi, Sho; Jakubowski, Kelly; Holzapfel, Andre; Mungan, Esra; Kaya, Ece; Rao, Preeti; Rohit, Mattur A.; Alladi, Suvarna; Tarr, Bronwyn; Anglada-Tort, Manuel; Harrison, Peter M. C.; McPherson, Malinda J.; Dolan, Sophie; Durango, Alex and McDermott, Josh H.. 2024. Commonality and variation in mental representations of music revealed by a cross-cultural comparison of rhythm priors in 15 countries. Nature Human Behaviour, 8(5), pp. 846-877. ISSN 2397-3374 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Music is present in every known society but varies from place to place. What, if anything, is universal to music cognition? We measured a signature of mental representations of rhythm in 39 participant groups in 15 countries, spanning urban societies and Indigenous populations. Listeners reproduced random ‘seed’ rhythms; their reproductions were fed back as the stimulus (as in the game of ‘telephone’), such that their biases (the prior) could be estimated from the distribution of reproductions. Every tested group showed a sparse prior with peaks at integer-ratio rhythms. However, the importance of different integer ratios varied across groups, often reflecting local musical practices. Our results suggest a common feature of music cognition: discrete rhythm ‘categories’ at small-integer ratios. These discrete representations plausibly stabilize musical systems in the face of cultural transmission but interact with culture-specific traditions to yield the diversity that is evident when mental representations are probed across many cultures.

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Funding: Open access funding provided by Max Planck Society.

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The raw data for all groups, the instructions for running the paradigm and the data plotted in each figure are provided in the OSF repository associated with the paper:

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7 December 2023Accepted
4 March 2024Published Online
May 2024Published

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10 Jun 2024 08:48

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10 Jun 2024 08:48

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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