Auditory-motor synchronization with temporally fluctuating sequences is dependent on fractal structure but not musical expertise

Summer K. Rankin, Charles J. Limb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Fractal structure is a ubiquitous property found in nature and biology, and has been observed in processes at different levels of organization, including rhythmic behavior and musical structure. A temporal process is characterized as fractal when serial long-term correlations and statistical self-similarity (scaling) are present. Previous studies of sensorimotor synchronization using isochronous (non-fractal) stimuli show that participants' errors exhibit persistent structure (positive long-term correlations), while their inter-tap intervals (ITIs) exhibit anti-persistent structure (negative long-term correlations). Auditory-motor synchronization has not been investigated with anti-persistent stimuli. In the current study, we systematically investigated whether the fractal structure of auditory rhythms was reflected in the responses of participants who were asked to coordinate their taps with each event. We asked musicians and non- musicians to tap with 12 different rhythms that ranged from anti-persistent to persistent. The scaling exponents of the ITIs were strongly correlated with the scaling exponents of the stimuli, showing that the long-term structure of the participants' taps scaled with the long-term structure of the stimuli. Surprisingly, the performance of the musicians was not significantly better than that of the non-musicians. Our results imply that humans are able to readily adapt (rather than simply react) to the overall statistical structure of temporally fluctuating stimuli, regardless of musical skill.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 970
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberAUG
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014


  • 1/f
  • Coordination
  • Fractal
  • Metastable
  • Music perception
  • Musician
  • Perception-action
  • Power law scaling
  • Synchronization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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