Regularizing randomness: Different Finger-Tapping Behaviour Elicited by Two Common Methods for Generating ‘Random’ Auditory Sequences

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Recently, there has been an increase in research attention for what has been called the temporal mesoscale of speech and music. Research has particularly focused on finding rhythmic or temporal structures that are shared between the two capacities. Often, the experiments involve contrasting regular (isochronous) sound sequences with random irregular sound sequences. The lack of a standardized procedure for how to construct these random sequences has resulted in considerable variability between the methods that are commonly used. More importantly, a closer look at a widely used method for creating these random sequences (jittering) reveals an underlying regularity: the intervals between the events are lag-one autocorrelated. Here, we investigated whether subjects are sensitive to this underlying regularity in jittered sequences using a finger- tapping experiment. A novel methodology for conducting online finger-tapping experiments was used, allowing a relatively large number of people to participate. Random sequences generated using the jittering method were compared with sequences generated using another commonly used method (IOI sampling). The results indicate that listeners are indeed sensitive to the underlying regularity in jittered sequences, and that they leverage it for regularizing their taps. This research has implications for how future experiments using random sequences are best conducted, and the results demand a discussion of the role that statistics play in auditory processing.
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