Sequential Learning

MacIntyre, A. D., Lo, H. Y. J., Cross, I., & Scott, S. (2022). Task-irrelevant auditory metre shapes visuomotor sequential learning. Psychological Research, 1-22.

Metre refers to temporal structure, and we use it to time our actions or organise the way we perceive the world. This can be as simple as the tick-tock of a clock, whose metre consists of just two events (the tick and the tock), or as complex as a Bulgarian folk dance, where the steps form recurring groupings of nine or even eleven beats. Sometimes we apply a metre without thinking, like when a runner's quick gait aligns within their slower breathing cycle to form a 4:1 ratio. There is some evidence that we are more alert or more sensitive during particular moments within a metre than others. One question is whether metric structure can help us to learn the identity of events that unfold in time. To test this idea, we paired a laboratory visual-motor learning task to some auditory metres formed using basic drum loops, hypothesising that visual elements that coincided with auditory metric accents would be learned faster than unaccented elements. We found that some experimental participants indeed seemed to integrate the metre that they heard with the visual pattern they were trying to learn, despite not being instructed to do so. When the metre they were hearing suddenly changed, it negatively impacted their performance in the task. But there was a lot of individual variability, so we need to run more studies like this to better understand how metre may affect the way we learn, and whether it works similarly across people, or is prone to individual differences.