Intelligence and rhythmic accuracy go hand in hand

People who score high on intelligence tests are also good at keeping time, new Swedish research shows. The team that carried out the study also suspect that accuracy in timing is important to the brain processes responsible for problem solving and reasoning.

Researchers at the medical university Karolinska Institutet and Umeå University have now demonstrated a correlation between general intelligence and the ability to tap out a simple regular rhythm. They stress that the task subjects performed had nothing to do with any musical rhythmic sense but simply measured the capacity for rhythmic accuracy. Those who scored highest on intelligence tests also had least variation in the regular rhythm they tapped out in the experiment.

“It’s interesting as the task didn’t involve any kind of problem solving,” says Fredrik Ullén at Karolinska Institutet, who led the study with Guy Madison at Umeå University. “Irregularity of timing probably arises at a more fundamental biological level owing to a kind of noise in brain activity.”

According to Fredrik Ullén, the results suggest that the rhythmic accuracy in brain activity observable when the person just maintains a steady beat is also important to the problem-solving capacity that is measured with intelligence tests.

“We know that accuracy at millisecond level in neuronal activity is critical to information processing and learning processes,” he says.

They also demonstrated a correlation between high intelligence, a good ability to keep time, and a high volume of white matter in the parts of the brain’s frontal lobes involved in problem solving, planning and managing time.

“All in all, this suggests that a factor of what we call intelligence has a biological basis in the number of nerve fibres in the prefrontal lobe and the stability of neuronal activity that this provides,” says Fredrik Ullén.

Source: Karolinska Institutet

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Citation: Intelligence and rhythmic accuracy go hand in hand (2008, April 16) retrieved 16 September 2019 from
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Apr 16, 2008
Phil Collins is a drummer

Apr 16, 2008
I had a phat drum session after reading this :)

Apr 16, 2008
As a musician myself, I've recognized for years that some people just don't have "what it takes" to maintain tempo/rhythm, regardless of their other musicianship skills. Heck, from my own experiences I know it takes ALOT of focus and internalization to "develop" and maintain tempo and rhythm throughout a piece of music... cool study.

Apr 21, 2008
I can't keep the beat. Always out of step and walk.
I have heared the rhythm is in the blood. It has been considered racist.

This constancy - constant time between each tap - should relate to "general intelligence". What is general intelligence?

Apr 22, 2008
There are so many ways this study is flawed it is hard to see where to start...

I'll just point out one:
correlation does not imply causality

Anyone's exposure to time (tempo in music, alarm clocks, school bells, deadlines, computer games, etc.) likely correlates well with his/her intelligence, not due to any cause within the brain, but simply as the result of the exposure.

The less intelligence you have, the less likely you are to have parents who expose you to music, make you get up on time for school (alarm clocks), encourage you to earn good grades (time pressure of school bells), encourage you in projects that have deadlines, buy you computer games that train you to time your actions precisely in response to stimuli, have the luxury to enroll you in sports and/or dance clubs, etc. etc.

A much more interesting (though immoral) study would be to find out the correlation between adult intelligence and the time-stimuli received as a child. Take twins, separate at birth, provide one with a dull and boring childhood, devoid of any "timely" stimuli while providing the other with a flood of it as suggested above.

By time they are adults, one will measure on our crude and imperfect tests as "more intelligent" than the other. ...and you very well know which one will be considered brighter!

I'd add that I learned long ago to always wake up 5 minutes before my alarm would go off. Regardless of when I set it when I went to sleep, regardless of what alarm I used (mine or the hotel's), regardless of the time zones I had crossed that day, regardless of the particular wake-up time chosen, I'd always wake up just in time to turn the alarm off. It was no sign of my "brilliance". I merely hate alarms and my subconscious took care of the problem for me. The mind is amazing...

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