Rhythm and Brains


Entrainment to music is a culturally widespread activity with increasingly recognized pro-social ang therapeutic effects. Music powerfully compels us to move to the musical rhythm, showcasing the remarkable ability of humans to perceive and produce rhythmic inputs.

However, the underlying functional mechanisms remain unknown. One view, which dates back to Darwin, is that the relevant mechanisms are ancient and anchored in the evolutionary oldest subcortical parts of the brain.

However, recent research argues that rhythm perception is a complex cognitive function involving temporally precise communication between cortical sensory and motor regions, even in the absence of overt body movement or intention to move.

This project aims to uncover these mechanisms by combining concepts and methods of experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience. Specifically, the research will :

  1. unravel the mechanisms at the interface of rhythmic inputs, motor skills and brain activity,
  2. establish the active role of motor representations in rhythm perception,
  3. track the development of these processes even prior to language in infants, and
  4. investigate the physiopathology and restoration of these processes in brain-damaged patients.

To achieve these objectives, the project will use a comparable method across different experimental settings, the frequency-tagging approach, whose reliability and advantages have been recently established as an innovative method to capture neural entrainment to rhythm in humans.

Results will provide important knowledge into how psychological, environmental and neural mechanisms affect such entrainment. Clarifying these mechanisms provides an optimal framework to unravel the role of an intrinsic sensory-motor coupling underlying perception and how this coupling develops over the lifespan. It is also critical for optimising clinical rehabilitation practices using music as a powerful non-verbal cross-cultural means of communication.



This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the grant agreement number 801872.