By Interactive Metronome - October 12, 2016
Mature brains exploit feedback when keeping a beat
Clapping along with a metronome is a deceptively simple task that requires the integration of multiple neural systems. Incorporating visual cues to guide beat keeping—as in Interactive Metronome (IM) training—only makes this more complicated because fine-grained timing in the brain’s auditory and motor centers has to align with similar functions in the visual system.
New research by Nina Kraus (www.brainvolts.northwestern.edu) at Northwestern University has unraveled what it takes to contend with this visual feedback. Kraus and colleagues looked under the hood of IM performance by testing 74 adolescents who clapped along to a metronome with and without visual feedback. The same adolescents underwent tests of cognitive and literacy skills. Next, Kraus and colleagues measured the brain’s electric activity at rest and in response to sound, with scalp electrodes.
IM performance with and without visual feedback tracked with cognition and literacy—adolescents who clapped more precisely on IM in both conditions also had more advanced working memory, phonological processing, and reading. Things got even more interesting, however, when Kraus and colleagues took a look at brain function. Adolescents with a more mature neural profile, both in terms of resting neural activity and neural activity in response to speech sounds, did a superior job clapping with visual feedback in IM. There was no link between IM performance without feedback and brain activity.
“A more mature brain is a healthier and more resilient brain,” said Kraus, who has pioneered ways of measuring the brain’s activity across development. “These findings show that the ability to incorporate visual feedback while keeping a beat systematically aligns with brain maturity. It stands to reason, then, that training the brain to exploit multisensory rhythm processing could speed up brain maturation and bolster cognitive health.”
Kraus and her team are now studying beat keeping in preschoolers who have not yet learned to read. Their goal is to identify an objective, biological marker of risk for reading impairment that can motivate early interventions such as IM. “Early interventions are incredibly effective in preventing reading struggles. Converging evidence suggests that training the brain’s auditory and motor timing systems could offer a powerful approach to early intervention for a wide variety language and literacy delays.”
“Incorporation of feedback during beat synchronization is an index of neural maturation and reading skills” was published in Brain and Language. To learn more about Nina Kraus visit www.brainvolts.northwestern.edu.