Temporal resolution of the brain

matt spitzer mwspitze at uci.edu
Tue Nov 8 20:54:50 EST 1994


In article <784318629snz at grithill.demon.co.uk>,
rwalker at grithill.demon.co.uk (robin walker) wrote:

> As part of an investigation into how the brain records patterns of stimulii
> and responses, it would help to know how accurately the brain can resolve
> temporal events.
> 
> To give examples:-
> 
> 1. If an experienced musician hears a piece of music, how closely can he/she 
> follow the tempo of the piece when performing it some short time after 
> first hearing it.
> 
> Two measures are of interest, a) the temporal error between any two points in 
> the piece and b) the cumulative error over the whole piece. Might there be 
> intermediate errors that are greater than the cumulative error or does 
> the cumulative error generally increase over the duration of the piece?
> 
> 2. If an experienced musician performs a piece of music with which he/she is 
> familiar twice in succession how closely is the the tempo maintained
> between the two performances using the two measures above.
> 
> I would be very grateful if anyone could give some pointers to published
> research on this subject or who can otherwise shed some light on the matter.
> 
> -- 
> Robin Walker

	Human listeners can detect interaural time differences as small as 7
microseconds under optimum conditions.  The relevant reference is:

Tobias, J. V. and Zerlin, S. (1959).  Lateralization threshold as a
function of stimulus duration.  J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 31: 1591-4.

	To my knowledge this is the lowest estimate of the temporal resolution of
the human nervous system.  Electric fish detect inter-receptor phase
disparities using similar circuitry to that used by mammals to detect
interaural time differences, but with slightly greater temporal resolution.
 I don't have specific references handy on this, but look up work by Walter
Heiligenberg.  Finally, Jim Simmons has published some evidence that bats
may achieve even greater temporal resolution in certain tasks involving
echolocation.  Sorry, once again I don't have the exact reference, but it
should be on medline, probably early to mid 80's.

	Finally, it seems to me that performance of the behaviors you have asked
about might be limited by factors other than the temporal resolution of the
relevant sensory systems, including memory and motor skills.



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