Behavioral effects of rhythm, carrier frequency and temporal cueing on the perception of sound sequences

Miriam Heynckes*, Peter De Weerd, Giancarlo Valente, Elia Formisano, Federico De Martino

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Regularity of acoustic rhythms allows predicting a target embedded within a stream thereby improving detection performance and reaction times in spectral detection tasks. In two experiments we examine whether temporal regularity enhances perceptual sensitivity and reduces reaction times using a temporal shift detection task. Participants detected temporal shifts embedded at different positions within a sequence of quintet-sounds. Narrowband quintets were centered around carrier frequencies of 200 Hz, 1100 Hz, or 3100 Hz and presented at presentation rates between 1-8 Hz. We compared rhythmic sequences to control conditions where periodicity was reduced or absent and tested whether perceptual benefits depend on the presentation rate, the spectral content of the sounds, and task difficulty. We found that (1) the slowest rate (1 Hz) led to the largest behavioral effect on sensitivity. (2) This sensitivity improvement is carrier-dependent, such that the largest improvement is observed for low-frequency (200 Hz) carriers compared to 1100 Hz and 3100 Hz carriers. (3) Moreover, we show that the predictive value of a temporal cue and that of a temporal rhythm similarly affect perceptual sensitivity. That is, both the cue and the rhythm induce confident temporal expectancies in contrast to an aperiodic rhythm, and thereby allow to effectively prepare and allocate attentional resources in time. (4) Lastly, periodic stimulation reduces reaction times compared to aperiodic stimulation, both at perceptual threshold as well as above threshold. Similarly, a temporal cue allowed participants to optimally prepare and thereby respond fastest. Overall, our results are consistent with the hypothesis that periodicity leads to optimized predictions and processing of forthcoming input and thus to behavioral benefits. Predictable temporally cued sounds provide a similar perceptual benefit to periodic rhythms, despite an additional uncertainty of target position within periodic sequences. Several neural mechanisms may underlie our findings, including the entrainment of oscillatory activity of neural populations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0234251
Number of pages17
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2020


  • TIME

Cite this