Dynamic acoustic salience evokes motor responses

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Audio-motor integration is currently viewed as a predictive process in which the brain simulates upcoming sounds based on voluntary actions. This perspective does not consider how our auditory environment may trigger involuntary action in the absence of prediction. We address this issue by examining the relationship between acoustic salience and involuntary motor responses. We investigate how acoustic features in music contribute to the perception of salience, and whether those features trigger involuntary peripheral motor responses. Participants with little-to-no musical training listened to musical excerpts once while remaining still during the recording of their muscle activity with surface electromyography (sEMG), and again while they continuously rated perceived salience within the music using a slider. We show cross-correlations between 1) salience ratings and acoustic features, 2) acoustic features and spontaneous muscle activity, and 3) salience ratings and spontaneous muscle activity. Amplitude, intensity, and spectral centroid were perceived as the most salient features in music, and fluctuations in these features evoked involuntary peripheral muscle responses. Our results suggest an involuntary mechanism for audio-motor integration, which may rely on brainstem-spinal or brainstem-cerebellar-spinal pathways. Based on these results, we argue that a new framework is needed to explain the full range of human sensorimotor capabilities. This goal can be achieved by considering how predictive and reactive audio-motor integration mechanisms could operate independently or interactively to optimize human behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)320-332
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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