Musical rhythm and pitch: A differential effect on auditory dynamics as revealed by the N1/MMN/P3a complex

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Abstract

Music represents a complex form of human cognition. To what extent our auditory system is attuned to music is yet to be clearly understood. Our principal aim was to determine whether the neurophysiological operations underlying pre-attentive auditory change detection (N1 enhancement (N1e)/Mismatch Negativity (MMN)) and the subsequent involuntary attentional reallocation (P3a) towards infrequent sound omissions, are influenced by differences in musical content. Specifically, we intended to explore any interaction effects that rhythmic and pitch dimensions of musical organization may have over these processes. Results showed that both the N1e and MMN amplitudes were differentially influenced by rhythm and pitch dimensions. MMN latencies were shorter for musical structures containing both features. This suggests some neurocognitive independence between pitch and rhythm domains, but also calls for further address on possible interactions between both of them at the level of early, automatic auditory detection. Furthermore, results demonstrate that the N1e reflects basic sensory memory processes. Lastly, we show that the involuntary switch of attention associated with the P3a reflects a general-purpose mechanism not modulated by musical features. Altogether, the N1e/MMN/P3a complex elicited by infrequent sound omissions revealed evidence of musical influence over early stages of auditory perception.

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