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Rhythm and Syntax Processing in School-Age Children

A wooden metronome in motion against a dark background.

Developmental Psychology

Yune S. Lee, Sanghoon Ahn, Rachael Frush Holt and E. Glenn Schellenberg

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Although the link between musical rhythm and speech has been well established, it is less obvious whether a similar association exists between music and language. To determine the degree of neural overlap between music and language, a recent meta-analysis on existing neuroimaging data was performed – highlighting the involvement of the frontotemporal sensorimotor network. More recently, a direct link between rhythm and grammar processing has been observed within the same individuals: For example, it was found that typically developing children (N=134 in total) with good rhythm skills understood grammatically complex sentences better than children with poor rhythm skills, even after controlling for working memory and other demographic variables.

Figure 3 displays the results of the second experiment in this study which demonstrate that the performance on the test of working memory (A) which shows a main effect of syntax, specifically with higher accuracy for subject-relative than for object-relative sentences. There was additionally a main effect of syntax on response time (B) with faster response for subject-relative than for object-relative sentences. (C) Displays that performance on the rhythm test was significantly better for 8 sounds than 7. Finally, (D) shows that response times were faster for the 8 sound rhythms than the 7.

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Yune S. Lee, PhD

Assistant Professor, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences Director of Speech, Language, and Music (SLAM) Laboratory

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