The role of native language and the fundamental design of the auditory system in detecting rhythm changes
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Purpose: We investigated whether rhythm discrimination is mainly driven by the native language of the listener or by the fundamental design of the human auditory system and universal cognitive mechanisms shared by all people irrespective of rhythmic patterns in their native language. Method: In multiple experiments, we asked participants to listen to 2 continuous acoustic sequences and to determine whether their rhythms were the same or different (AX discrimination). Participants were native speakers of 4 languages with different rhythmic properties (Spanish, French, English, and German) to understand whether the predominant rhythmic patterns of a native language affect sensitivity, bias, and reaction time in detecting rhythmic changes in linguistic (Experiment 2) and in nonlinguistic (Experiments 1 and 2) acoustic sequences. We examined sensitivity and bias measures, as well as reaction times. We also computed Bayes factors in order to assess the effect of native language. Results: All listeners performed better (i.e., responded faster and manifested higher sensitivity and accuracy) when detecting the presence or absence of a rhythm change when the 1st stimulus in an AX test pair exhibited regular rhythm (i.e., a syllable-timed rhythmic pattern) than when the 1st stimulus exhibited irregular rhythm (i.e., stress-timed rhythmic pattern). This result pattern was observed both on linguistic and nonlinguistic stimuli and was not modulated by the native language of the participant. Conclusion: We conclude that rhythm change detection is a fundamental function of a processing system that relies on general auditory mechanisms and is not modulated by linguistic experience.
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