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You are here: McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind > Publications > Impairment of beat-based rhythm discrimination in Parkinson’s disease

Jessica A Grahn and Matthew Brett (2009)

Impairment of beat-based rhythm discrimination in Parkinson’s disease

Cortex, 45:54-61.

Humans often synchronize movements to the beat, indicating that motor areas may be involved in detecting or generating a beat. The basal ganglia have been shown to be preferentially activated by perception of rhythms with a regular beat (Grahn and Brett, 2007), but their necessity for beat-based rhythm processing has not been proven. Previous research has shown that Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients are impaired in timing of isochronous intervals (Harrington et al., 1998a; O’Boyle et al., 1996), but little work has tested more complex rhythms. In healthy volunteers, behavioural performance is better for rhythms with a beat than without a beat (Essens, 1986). We tested PD patients and controls on a rhythm discrimination task to determine if basal ganglia dysfunction results in an impairment of processing rhythms that have a beat. Unlike rhythm reproduction, discrimination has no motor requirements that are problematic for patients. Half the rhythms had a beat-based structure, and half did not. Subjects heard a rhythm twice and then indicated if a third presentation of the rhythm was the same or different. We predicted that PD patients would benefit less from beat structure than controls, resulting in a group by rhythm-type interaction, with reduced relative performance for the beat-based sequences in the PD group. Indeed this was the pattern of the results. In the control group, a significant advantage was observed for discrimination of rhythms with a beat compared to those without a beat. This advantage was greatly reduced in the PD group. Discrimination of beat-based rhythms was significantly impaired in PD patients compared to controls, whereas discrimination of non-beat-based rhythms did not differ significantly. This suggests that the basal ganglia are part of a system involved in detecting or generating an internal beat, and that this system is compromised in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

beat perception, rhythm, timing, parkinson's disease, basal ganglia