The ability to synchronize movement to a steady beat is a fundamental skill underlying musical performance and has been studied for decades as a model of sensorimotor synchronization. Nevertheless, little is known about the neural correlates of individual differences in the ability to synchronize to a beat. In particular, links between auditory-motor synchronization ability and characteristics of the brain's response to sound have not yet been explored. Given direct connections between the inferior colliculus (IC) and subcortical motor structures, we hypothesized that consistency of the neural response to sound within the IC is linked to the ability to tap consistently to a beat. Here, we show that adolescent humans who demonstrate less variability when tapping to a beat have auditory brainstem responses that are less variable as well. One of the sources of this enhanced consistency in subjects who can steadily tap to a beat may be decreased variability in the timing of the response, as these subjects also show greater between-trial phase-locking in the auditory brainstem response. Thus, musical training with a heavy emphasis on synchronization of movement to musical beats may improve auditory neural synchrony, potentially benefiting children with auditory-based language impairments characterized by excessively variable neural responses.
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