Biological links between rhythm and reading

Project: Research project

Project Details


Overview. Rhythm perception and production may call upon neural resources that are vital for language. Indeed, there is a systematic relationship between reading and rhythmic abilities. The nature of the neural resources shared by rhythm and reading remains obscure, however, since little is known about the neural foundations of rhythmic skill. The proposed study will address this conceptual gap by examining the neural correlates of rhythmic skills and reading skills. We hypothesize that impaired neural synchrony within the auditory system interferes with the brain’s ability to make fine temporal judgments, leading to a blurred estimate of temporal factors such as the duration of a sound or the interval between sounds. This temporal uncertainty would then hinder the ability to perform more complex rhythmic tasks such as tapping to a beat, distinguishing between stimuli based on their rhythmic structure, and categorizing speech sounds (a necessary precursor for the development of phonological awareness and acquisition of reading). Thus, we propose that auditory neural synchrony underlies individual differences in both reading ability and rhythmic skills. We predict that students who show low performance on tests of reading will also show low performance on tests of rhythmic skill, and will have neural responses to sound that are delayed, less consistent, display more temporal jitter, and less accurately represent the timing characteristics of sound. Statement on intellectual merit. Rhythmic abilities such as beat synchronization have been studied since the mid-20th century as a canonical example of sensorimotor synchronization. A common finding of these studies has been that performance varies wildly among subjects, yet there has been surprisingly little research on the neural foundations of individual differences in rhythmic performance. In particular, although several studies have shown that beat synchronization performance relies upon motor system function, there has been no research conducted on the extent to which beat synchronization and other rhythmic abilities rely upon the fidelity and consistency of neural encoding of sound. We aim to provide a conceptual advance in our understanding of sensorimotor integration by investigating the role of temporal precision of the neural encoding of sound. The proposed work will identify the biological underpinnings of the established link between beat synchronization and reading ability, furthering our understanding of the relationship between linguistic and musical processing in the brain. Statement on broader impacts. The ability to read is one of the most fundamental skills necessary for success in modern society. It is well-established that rhythmic skills, such as the ability to tap to a beat, are impaired in children with reading problems. Unfortunately, little is known about the neural foundations of rhythmic skills, limiting the extent to which the link between rhythm and reading can illuminate the biological bases of reading. We suggest that diminished auditory neural synchrony impairs temporal judgments, hindering the perceptual discriminations necessary for phonological awareness. This implies that rhythmic training, including musical training, could decrease the jitter of the neural response to sound and, therefore, facilitate the acquisition of phonological awareness and reading. In addition to the aforementioned scientific impact, this project will provide a venue for community outreach to underserved minorities who make up a significant portion of the subject base. To f
Effective start/end date9/1/148/31/18


  • National Science Foundation (BCS-1430400)


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