Individual Differences in Sensorimotor Synchronization to Speech and Music


  • Neža Marija Slosar University of Ljubljana
  • Maria de Lourdes Noboa Cepeda Eötvös Loránd University
  • Ferenc Honbolygó Eötvös Loránd University



The aim of this study was to investigate how rhythmic synchronization is congruent in different domains of speech and music perception. In the speech domain, findings show the preferred rhythmic range (syllable rate) of speech is between 2 and 8 Hz, and this temporal structure is remarkably stable across languages [1]. Researchers found that some listeners can spontaneously synchronize their syllable production in a Speech-to-Speech Synchronization (SSS) test with the perceived rate, defining them as high synchronizers, while others cannot, defining them as low synchronizers [1]. In the domain of music, the Precise Auditory Timing Hypothesis suggests that the link between rhythm and phonology is established through precise neural timing in both phonological skills and beat synchronization ability [2]. Beat synchronization can be studied by the tapping task [3]. There are only a few studies on the relationship between sensorimotor synchronization and working memory, but results show that the two do not seem to be correlated, which supports the notion of the neural oscillator model [3]. Based on previous studies, we propose the following hypotheses: (1) Participants will show a bimodal distribution in the SSS test. (2) There will be a positive correlation between the results of the SSS test and the tapping task. (3) Musical background (participants with more musical experience) will correlate positively with high synchrony on the SSS test and/or good results on the tapping task. (4) Results on the working memory task will not significantly correlate with synchrony on the SSS test and/or result on the tapping task.


We measured behavioural data based using the SSS test [1], and a tapping task based on Kertész & Honbolygó [3]. In both tasks, the degree of synchrony to external stimuli is measured. We also measured working memory capacity (counting span task), and the musical background of participants using a questionnaire.


We collected data from 34 participants (5 males; 20.68 years old +/- 2.87). We confirmed the first hypothesis: Participants showed a bimodal distribution (low and high synchronizers) in the SSS test. Second hypothesis we rejected: The comparison between either consistency or asynchrony (tapping) and degree of synchronization (SSS) did not show a significant correlation. We partly confirmed the third hypothesis: Musically educated participants were significantly better at consistency (tapping). Significantly better results on tapping (consistency and asynchrony) showed also participants who play an instrument(s). In general, we confirmed the fourth hypothesis, as a moderate correlation was only found between the counting average and consistency.


The results show the expected robust bimodal distribution on the SSS test, whereas correlation to results on the tapping task is not present. Musicians indeed seem to have a better tapping performance, but not better SSS. Both findings suggest that the two cognitive systems are independent from each other, and are not directly related to working memory.


[1] D. Poeppel and M. F. Assaneo, “Speech rhythms and their neural foundations,” Nat Rev Neurosci, vol. 21, no. 6, pp. 322–334, Jun. 2020. doi:10.1038/s41583-020-0304-4

[2] A. Tierney and N. Kraus, “Auditory-motor entrainment and phonological skills: precise auditory timing hypothesis (PATH),” Front Hum Neurosci, vol. 8, Nov. 2014. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00949

[3] C. Kertész and F. Honbolygó, “Tapping to Music Predicts Literacy Skills of First-Grade Children,” Front Psychol, vol. 12, Oct. 2021. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.741540