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The syncopation-groove relationship is not experience-dependent: Evidence from children and dancers

The syncopation-groove relationship is not experience-dependent: Evidence from children and dancers

Session 2

Presenter Name:Nicole Caldarone and Maya Psaris

School/Affiliation:McMaster University

Co-Authors:Nicole Caldarone, Maya Psaris, Daniel Cameron, Chantal Carrillo, Laurel Trainor


The syncopation-groove relationship is not experience-dependent: evidence from children and dancers.

Nicole Caldarone*

Maya Psaris*

Daniel Cameron

Chantal Carrillo

Laurel Trainor

*Equal contributions


The urge to move to music (groove) depends in part on how syncopated the rhythms in the music are. In adults, the syncopation-groove relationship has an inverted-U shape: listeners want to move most to rhythms that have some, but not too much, syncopation. However, we do not know whether the syncopation-groove relationship is fundamental and fixed or experience-dependent.

In two sets of experiments, we tested whether the syncopation-groove relationship differs between 1) children and adults, 2) dancers and non-dancers, and 3) dancers of different styles (e.g., ballet and hip-hop).

We tested 3- to 6-year-old children on a 2-alternative-forced choice task in which participants compared rhythms from 2 of 3 possible levels of syncopation (low, medium, and high) and decided which rhythm in a pair was better for dancing, and on a dance task in which children danced to the same rhythms. Results from both tasks indicate that for children, as for adults, medium syncopation rhythms elicit more groove than low and high syncopation rhythms. Moreover, older children tended to have a more adult-like syncopation-groove relationship.

We also had dancers and non-dancers rate groove for 50 rhythms ranging from very low to very high syncopation. Dancers’ and non-dancers’ ratings did not differ in terms of mean groove or the optimal level of syncopation for eliciting groove. Similarly, ballet and hip-hop dancers did not have different syncopation-groove relationships.

Taken together, the results suggest the syncopation-groove relationship is more fundamental than experience-dependent.

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