Beat synchronization across the lifespan: Intersection of development and musical experience

Elaine C. Thompson, Travis White-Schwoch, Adam Tierney, Nina Kraus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Rhythmic entrainment, or beat synchronization, provides an opportunity to understand how multiple systems operate together to integrate sensory-motor information. Also, synchronization is an essential component of musical performance that may be enhanced through musical training. Investigations of rhythmic entrainment have revealed a developmental trajectory across the lifespan, showing synchronization improves with age and musical experience. Here, we explore the development and maintenance of synchronization in childhood through older adulthood in a large cohort of participants (N = 145), and also ask how it may be altered by musical experience. We employed a uniform assessment of beat synchronization for all participants and compared performance developmentally and between individuals with and without musical experience. We show that the ability to consistently tap along to a beat improves with age into adulthood, yet in older adulthood tapping performance becomes more variable. Also, from childhood into young adulthood, individuals are able to tap increasingly close to the beat (i.e., asynchronies decline with age), however, this trend reverses from younger into older adulthood. There is a positive association between proportion of life spent playing music and tapping performance, which suggests a link between musical experience and auditory-motor integration. These results are broadly consistent with previous investigations into the development of beat synchronization across the lifespan, and thus complement existing studies and present new insights offered by a different, large cross-sectional sample.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0128839
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 24 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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