Entrainment of Voluntary Movement to Undetected Auditory Regularities


In physics “entrainment” refers to the synchronization of two coupled oscillators with similar fundamental frequencies. In behavioral science, entrainment refers to the tendency of humans to synchronize their movements with rhythmic stimuli. Here, we asked whether human subjects performing a tapping task would entrain their tapping to an undetected auditory rhythm surreptitiously introduced in the guise of ambient background noise in the room. Subjects performed two different tasks, one in which they tapped their finger at a steady rate of their own choosing and one in which they performed a single abrupt finger tap on each trial after a delay of their own choosing. In both cases we found that subjects tended to tap in phase with the inducing modulation, with some variability in the preferred phase across subjects, consistent with prior research. In the repetitive tapping task, if the frequency of the inducing stimulus was far from the subject’s own self-paced frequency, then entrainment was abolished, consistent with the properties of entrainment in physics. Thus, undetected ambient noise can influence self-generated movements. This suggests that uncued decisions to act are never completely endogenous, but are subject to subtle unnoticed influences from the sensory environment.

Scientific reports