Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

News from the Field

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

News from the Field

Article excerpt

Published online: 13 December 2012

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012


Musical training

Rammsayer, T. H., Buttkus, F., & Altenmüller, E. (2012). Musicians do better than nonmusicians in both auditory and visual timing tasks. Music Perception, 30, 85-96.

Being able to process time and rhythm very precisely is certainly a key feature of success in music. Usually, studies investigating the capabilities of musicians for processing temporal information have been conducted in combination with tests of motor skills. Superior performance of musicians over nonmusicians on timing tasks largely depends on the strong central nervous coupling of auditory and sensorymotor representations. In this new study, by Rammsayer and collaborators, 40 formally trained musicians and 40 controls without musical experience are compared. The authors extend the investigation to a series of perceptual timing tasks, namely rhythm perception, temporal fusion, duration discrimination (at 50 ms and at 1 s) and temporal generalization (at 75 ms and at 1 s) and they do this in both the auditory and visual modalities. Except for the temporal generalization task in the 1-s range, they observed higher temporal acuity with auditory stimuli than visual stimuli. The overall superiority for auditory over vision for temporal processing is consistent with most previous reports on this subject. Musicians had superior temporal acuity compared to nonmusicians in all temporal tasks (except for temporal generalization). Most interestingly, the superiority of musicians over nonmusicians for processing temporal information extended to the visual modality. This finding led the authors to posit that there is one general internal timing mechanism that underlies all of these different aspects of timing performance. To test their hypothesis, they conducted a principal component analysis in order to identify the dimensional structure of timing performance. It turned out that all timing tasks (except for auditory temporal generalization at 75 ms and visual temporal generalization at 1 s), exhibited substantial loadings on the first unrotated principal component. In addition to concluding that there is a task- and modality-independent general internal timing mechanism, Rammsayer and collaborators (2012) claim that musicians' long-lasting intensive music training, starting in childhood, improves general timing ability irrespective of sensory modality.-S.G.


Allocating system memory

Sims, C.R., Jacobs, R.A., & Knill, D.C. (2012). An ideal observer analysis of visual working memory. Psychological Review, 119(4), 807-830.

Slots or resources, that is the question. Or rather, that was the question. Some results seemed consistent with slot theory, in which a limited number of stimuli (like four) could be remembered with equal precision. Other results seemed consistent with resource theory, in which precision varied inversely with the (unlimited) number of stimuli to be remembered. Sims et al. (2012) have recast the question from the viewpoint of an ideal observer: How should memory be apportioned to multiple stimuli? The answer depends on what the observer is trying to achieve.

Within the context of information theory, it can be generally assumed that the best way to transmit or store information is the way that minimizes distortion. There are many ways of quantifying distortion, but however it is done, information theory specifies how its minimum depends on both the distribution of to-be-remembered stimuli and the amount (i.e. total capacity) of memory.

Sims et al. adopt a fairly generic definition of distortion, and demonstrate that performance in two memory tasks does indeed depend on the distribution of to-be-remembered stimuli in just the way specified by information theory.

Not content with sidestepping the issue of slots vs resources, Sims et al. further demonstrate their data are most consistent with the performance of an otherwise ideal observer that is handicapped not only with a finite amount of visual memory, but also with the non-zero probability of forgetting items altogether. …

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