Cognitive entrainment to isochronous rhythms is independent of both sensory modality and top-down attention

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Abstract

The anisochrony of a stimulus sequence was manipulated parametrically to investigate whether rhythmic entrainment is stronger in the auditory modality than in the visual modality (Experiment 1), and whether it relies on top-down attention (Experiment 2). In Experiment 1, participants had to respond as quickly as possible to a target presented after a sequence of either visual or auditory stimuli. The anisochrony of this sequence was manipulated parametrically, rather than in an all or none fashion; that is, it could range from smaller to larger deviations of the isochrony (0, 10, 20, 50, 100, 150 and 200 ms). We compared rhythmic entrainment patterns for auditory and visual modalities. Results showed a peak of entrainment for both isochrony and deviations of isochrony up to 50 ms (i.e., participants were equally fast both after the isochronous sequences and after 10, 20 and 50 ms deviations), suggesting that anisochronous sequences can also produce entrainment. Beyond this entrainment window, the reaction times became progressively slower. Surprisingly, no differences were found between the entrainment patterns for auditory and visual rhythms. In Experiment 2, we used a dual-task methodology by adding a working memory n-back task to the procedure of Experiment 1. Results did not show interference of the secondary task in either auditory or visual modalities, with participants showing the same entrainment pattern as in Experiment 1. These results suggest that rhythmic entrainment constitutes a cognitive process that occurs by default (automatically), regardless of the modality in which the stimuli are presented, and independent of top-down attention, to generate behavioural benefits.

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