From random to regular: Neural constraints on the emergence of isochronous rhythm during cultural transmission
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionSocial Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience. 2018, 13 (8), 877-888. 10.1093/SCAN/NSY054
A core design feature of human communication systems and expressive behaviours is their temporal organization. The cultural evolutionary origins of this feature remain unclear. Here, we test the hypothesis that regularities in the temporal organization of signalling sequences arise in the course of cultural transmission as adaptations to aspects of cortical function. We conducted two experiments on the transmission of rhythms associated with affective meanings, focusing on one of the most widespread forms of regularity in language and music: isochronicity. In the first experiment, we investigated how isochronous rhythmic regularities emerge and change in multigenerational signalling games, where the receiver (learner) in a game becomes the sender (transmitter) in the next game. We show that signalling sequences tend to become rhythmically more isochronous as they are transmitted across generations. In the second experiment, we combined electroencephalography (EEG) and two-player signalling games over 2 successive days. We show that rhythmic regularization of sequences can be predicted based on the latencies of the mismatch negativity response in a temporal oddball paradigm. These results suggest that forms of isochronicity in communication systems originate in neural constraints on information processing, which may be expressed and amplified in the course of cultural transmission.