The auditory temporal attending theory revisited

Anna-Katharina R. Bauer, Manuela Jaeger, Jeremy D. Thorne, Stefan Debener


Background. The temporal attending theory predicts that tone sequences presented at a regular rhythm entrain attentional oscillations and thereby facilitate the processing of sounds presented in phase with this rhythm (Jones et al., 2002). During the past decade the theory of auditory temporal attending has become widely popular (140 ISI citations by July 2014) and has inspired both music psychology as well as neuroscience research. The aim of the current study was to replicate the findings of Jones et al. (2002).

Method. The original paradigm is a pitch comparison task in which two tones - an initial standard tone and the last tone of a longer series, named the comparison tone - have to be compared. In between the two, distractor tones with variable pitch are presented at a regular sequence. A comparison tone presented in phase with the entrained rhythm is hypothesized to lead to better behavioral performance, thus higher task accuracy, compared to comparison tones presented at unexpected early or late intervals. Four different variations of the original paradigm were created and 106 participants were tested in total. The Goldsmiths Musical Sophistication Index (Gold-MSI) was included in all but the first experiment to test the influence of musicality on task performance.

Results and Conclusion. Over all four experiments only 38 of the 106 participants showed the desired pattern of an inverted U-shaped profile in task accuracy, and in none of the four variations did the group average effects replicate the pattern reported by Jones et al., (2002). However, evidence for a relationship between musicality and overall behavioral performance was found. Our results question the validity of the pitch comparison task for the study of auditory temporal attending.

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