Language experience clearly affects the perception of speech, but little is known about whether these differences in perception extend to non-speech sounds. In this study, we investigated rhythmic perception of non-linguistic sounds in speakers of French and German using a grouping task, in which complexity (variability in sounds, presence of pauses) was manipulated. In this task, participants grouped sequences of auditory chimeras formed from musical instruments. These chimeras mimic the complexity of speech without being speech. We found that, while showing the same overall grouping preferences, the German speakers showed stronger biases than the French speakers in grouping complex sequences. Sound variability reduced all participants’ biases, resulting in the French group showing no grouping preference for the most variable sequences, though this reduction was attenuated by musical experience. In sum, this study demonstrates that linguistic experience, musical experience, and complexity affect rhythmic grouping of non-linguistic sounds and suggests that experience with acoustic cues in a meaningful context (language or music) is necessary for developing a robust grouping preference that survives acoustic variability.
- Rhythmic grouping
- Auditory perception