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You are here: McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind > Publications > Eye Movement Patterns During the Processing of Musical and Linguistic Syntactic Incongruities

Stephanie Ahken, Gilles Comeau, Sylvie Hebert, and Ramesh Balasubramaniam (2012)

Eye Movement Patterns During the Processing of Musical and Linguistic Syntactic Incongruities

Psychomusicology: Music, Mind & Brain, 22:18-25.

It has been suggested that music and language share syntax-supporting brain mechanisms. Consequently, violations of syntax in either domain may have similar effects. The present study examined the effects of syntactic incongruities on eye movements and reading time in both music and language domains. In the music notation condition, the syntactic incongruities violated the prevailing musical tonality (i.e., the last bar of the incongruent sequence was a nontonic chord or nontonic note in the given key). In the linguistic condition, syntactic incongruities violated the expected grammatical structure (i.e., sentences with anomalies carrying the progressive –ing affix or the past tense inflection). Eighteen pianists were asked to sight-read and play musical phrases (music condition) and read sentences aloud (linguistic condition). Syntactic incongruities in both domains were associated with an increase in the mean proportion and duration of fixations in the target region of interest, as well as longer reading duration. The results are consistent with the growing evidence of a shared network of neural structures for syntactic processing, while not ruling out the possibility of independent networks for each domain.
music perception, music, speech perception, eye movement