Auditory organization of sound sequences by a temporal or numerical regularity - A mismatch negativity study comparing musicians and non-musicians

Titia L. Van Zuijen, Elyse Sussman, István Winkler, Risto Näätänen, Mari Tervaniemi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

77 Scopus citations


The human auditory system can encode regularities in the acoustic environment without the requirement of attention. We investigated whether the auditory system of musicians is more sensitive than that of non-musicians in encoding complex regularities. We presented tone sequences containing either a temporal or a numerical regularity. The sequence with the temporal regularity could be divided into segments of a constant duration while the segments contained a varying number of tones. The sequence with the numerical regularity, on the other hand, could be divided into segments containing a constant number of tones while the segments varied in duration. Auditory encoding of the regularity was determined by measuring whether an occasional segment lengthening, either in time or by number elicited the mismatch negativity (MMN). In both musicians and non-musicians, an MMN was elicited when the temporal regularity was violated. In contrast, only in musicians an MMN was elicited to violations of the numerical regularity. The results show that temporal processing is of general importance in audition since at an involuntary auditory processing stage a complex temporal regularity can be encoded irrespective of musical expertise. Furthermore, the auditory system of professional musicians can encode a numerical regularity without attention being required reflecting the functional importance of beat tracking in the perceptual organization of music.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)270-276
Number of pages7
JournalCognitive Brain Research
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - May 2005



  • Mismatch negativity
  • Musician
  • Processing of numerosity
  • Regularity detection
  • Temporal processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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