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Research Finds Why Beat Deaf Individuals Are Unable To Keep A Beat

Update Date: Nov 10, 2014 10:23 AM EST

Researchers have discovered that beat-deafness is a problem not simply of how people feel a pulse or move their bodies but also how they synchronize with sounds they hear, according to a new study. 

"We examined beat tracking, the ability to find a regular pulse and move with it, in individuals who complained of difficulty following a beat in everyday activities like listening to music and dancing," said McGill psychology professor Caroline Palmer, in the press release. 

Deficits in synchronizing help to uncover fundamental properties of human neural function, such as how auditory and motor systems are integrated in neural networks, the press release added.

"We found that these beat-deaf individuals were able to perceive different rhythms and tap a regular beat in the absence of sound, similarly to control group members," added Palmer. "Only when they had to move with the beat did we see a deficit, compared with the control group."

"Most people had no problem, but the beat-deaf individuals were quite variable in their tapping - sometimes missing the beat by a large amount," says Palmer, who is also Director of the NSERC-CREATE training network in Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience. "The most difficult test was to tap along with a metronome that suddenly became faster or slower. The non-beat-deaf were able to adapt to the changes within a few beats, but interestingly, the beat-deaf individuals were not able to synchronize with the new beat. The types of mistakes that beat-deaf individuals made indicated deficits in biological rhythms, including the natural frequencies or rates at which the internal oscillations pulsed, and how long it took them to respond to the new metronome tempo."

The study is detailed in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 

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