Projects in Previous Years

2nd Semester 2010/11: On the Beat (or not): Likelihood and Significance in Testing Models of Beat Induction

Henkjan Honing
If you are interested in this project, please contact Henkjan by email.
Last year several new insights were published on the phenomenon of beat induction [1]. Beat induction is the cognitive skill that allows us to hear a regular pulse in music to which we can synchronize. It allows us to dance and make music together. Hence it is considered a fundamental cognitive skill that must have contributed to the origins of music.

Most of these recent studies try to support (or falsify) the criteria that beat induction (as a cognitive skill that allows for music) should fulfill: it should at least be a) special to music (domain-specific), b) develop spontaneously (or be innate), and c) be uniquely human (human-specific).

With regard to the latter criterion: in Patel et al. (2009) [2] a cockatoo (named Snowball) is described that moves synchronously to music while the tempo was manipulated. Snowball moved periodically during all recorded trials, but only 5-20% of the time does he synchronize to the beat. Hence, the main question in this project will be: is the observed synchronization merely a coincidence? [3]

Additional questions are: What statistical tests for significance can be (or should have been) used in this study? What is an appropriate null hypothesis? What would be a good baseline to use as a reference? What is the a-priori chance that two oscillatory systems are in synchrony? What are attractive alternative measures? And what do they say about the significance of the results?

N.B. All data and measurements reported in [2] are available to students for analysis and modelling.

  • Familiarity with statistics and/or computational modelling
  • Familiarity with Matlab (or related software)
  • Interest in music cognition