A relationship between reading ability and neural response consistency has been identified through previous studies. However, co-author Nina Kraus explains: “By directly linking auditory responses with beat-keeping ability, we have closed the triangle.”
Kraus, who is the Director of North-Western University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, carried out the study by administering two tests to 124 high school students.
The first test asked subjects to tap their finger with the beat of a metronome in order to measure their rhythmic accuracy. In the second of the tests, students were fitted with electrodes that determined the consistency of the brain’s response to a repetitious syllable.
The subjects who exhibited the highest degree of accuracy showed a more consistent brain response during the syllable test.
“This is supported biologically,” Kraus said. “The brainwaves we measured originate from a biological hub of auditory processing with reciprocal connections with the motor-movement centers. An activity that requires coordination of hearing and movement is likely to rely on solid and accurate communication across brain regions.”
The fact that beat-keeping and literacy skills are so closely linked, makes complete sense, says Kraus.
“Rhythm is an integral part of both music and language,” she said. “And the rhythm of spoken language is a crucial cue to understanding.”
Kraus argues that an increase in musical training may serve as auditory system excercise, “leading to less neural jitter and stronger sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential to learning to read.”