It was wonderful to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the BRAMS institute with Isabelle Peretz, Robert Zatorre, and their many collaborators. I presented gait data at this conference and had the opportunity to see the overviews and future directions of many other studies in the realm of music & movement. Our data shows that for high beat perceivers, synchronizing to high-groove music is most beneficial for walking, whereas low beat perceivers may gain a greater benefit by walking freely, without pressure to synchronize.
Music-based rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS) is a cueing technique used to rehabilitate abnormal gait, typically involving synchronizing footsteps with the beat. However, instructions to synchronize may be detrimental to individuals who have difficulty perceiving the beat in music, such as people with Parkinson’s disease, because of increased cognitive load.
The present study evaluates how beat perception skills influence gait responses to RAS when instructed to synchronize steps with the beat versus when permitted to walk freely. Healthy participants walked on a pressure-sensor walkway to music that they rated to be high in groove (a quantification of ‘desire to move to the music’). Beat perception was evaluated using the Beat Alignment Test from the Goldsmiths Music Sophistication Index v1.0.
As predicted, instructions to synchronize facilitated gait in strong beat perceivers, whereas walking freely facilitated gait in weak beat perceivers. This instruction x beat perception interaction occurred significantly for stride width, an indicator of balance, and marginally for stride length. Results support the premise that RAS should be tailored to beat perception skill: weak beat perceivers exhibit greater improvements if there is no pressure to synchronize steps to the music.