Projects in Previous Years

2nd Semester 2008/09: On the beat (or not)

Henkjan Honing
If you are interested in this project, please contact Professor Honing by e-mail.

It was world news: in Current Biology Online of April 30, 2009 two studies presented empirical evidence against the hypothesis that beat induction is human-specific. Beat induction is the cognitive skill of perceiving regularity (the pulse or the "beat") in music while that "beat" might not be explicitly there (hence the term "induction"). [1]

In Patel et al. (2009) a cockatoo (named "Snowball") is described that moves synchronously to the music of the Backstreet Boys while the tempo was manipulated.  In about 15% of the cases the bird synchronized. [2]

The main question is: is the observed synchronization merely a coincidence? Snowball moved rhythmically/periodically during all recorded trials, but only 5-20% of the time does he synchronize to the beat.  What is a proper null hypothesis? What would be a good baseline to use as a reference? What is the a-priori chance that two oscillatory systems to be in synchrony? What statistical tests for significance can be (or should have been) used in this study? What are attractive alternative measures?

Additional outcome of the summer project might be depending on input to contribute to a scientific paper criticizing the cockatoo studies and proposing alternative evaluation methods for animal cognition with regard to probing the fundamental aspects of music cognition.

Tasks: reading group, designing, running and evaluating simulations, writing of report, potentially contribute to scientific publication.
Familiarity with:
  • computational modeling (e.g., permutation tests like Monte Carlo)
  • statistics (esp. testing significance of periodic signals, e.g., Rayleigh test)
  • Common LISP, Matlab or statistical packages like R
  • interest in music cognition.