Language experience affects grouping of musical instrument sounds

Anjali Bhatara*, Natalie Boll-Avetisyan, Trevor Agus, Barbara Höhle, Thierry Nazzi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1816-1830
Number of pages15
JournalCognitive Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Cross-linguistic
  • French
  • German
  • Music
  • Rhythmic grouping
  • Auditory perception


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