Saturday, October 29, 2005

Mental time keeping

A very interesting post on the Science Blog re: the importance of mental/interval time keeping abilities in human performance. Why do I find this sooooo interesting?

Recently, Dr. Gordon Taub, Dr. Tim Keith and I received funding (yes...this means a potential $ conflict of interest....reader beware) to conduct an independent evaluation of the effects of a synchronized metronome tapping (SMT) intervention (Interactive Metronome) on academic performance. I was very skeptical of the potential benefits of a non-academic intervention on school achievement. However, the results were hard to dismiss.

When our positive findings were combined with the finding that SMT (IM in particular) has demonstrated significant effects across a very diverse array of human performance domains, we set out to review the literature to determine if a unified cognitive causal explanation might account for such findings (in a paper currently under review - Taub, McGrew & Keith - Improvements in Interval Time Tracking and Effects on Academic Achievement).

Low and behold...what literature did we identify as having the greatest chance to account for the positive intervention effects of SMT?- yep....mental/interval time keeping models research....ddodododododdodo (Twilight Zone music)!

A few tantilizing excerpts from our paper:
  • From Abstract - This paper examines the effect of improvements in timing/rhythmicity on students’ reading and mathematics achievement. A total of 86 participants...completed pre- and post-test measures of reading and mathematics achievement from the Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement, Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing, Test of Word Reading Efficiency, , and Test of Silent Word Reading Fluency....Students in the experimental group participated in a 4 week intervention designed to improve their timing/rhythmicity by reducing the latency in their response to a synchronized metronome beat, referred to as a synchronized metronome tapping (SMT) intervention. The intervention required, on average, 15 daily 50 minute sessions, The results from this non-academic intervention indicate the experimental group’s post-test scores on select measures of reading and mathematics were significantly higher than the non-treatment control group’s scores at the end of 4 weeks.
  • Many jobs and tasks require a critical sense of knowing how much time events or activities should take or how to internally judge intervals of time. This mental operation is often referred to as mental time keeping or interval timing. For example, proficient short-order cooks are master mental time/interval timers as they must prepare several different foods concurrently, each of which typically requires a different cooking time interval.

  • Cognitive psychology’s interest in mental time-keeping has spanned decades. For example, cognitive differential psychologists first reported the identification of a temporal tracking.
  • More recently, researchers in cognitive psychology studied the phenomenon of interval timing through the use of research paradigms that require individuals to maintain synchrony with auditory tones (e.g., from a metronome), also known as Synchronized Metronome Tapping (SMT).
  • Recent mental time-keeper research studies have suggested a number of potentially useful applied applications across a diverse array of performance domains.
Ok....that's enough for now. I'm still a bit skeptical of the explanation for our findings, but I now have what might be called a healthy degree of positive skepticism. The article referenced in the Science Blog post leads me to believe that something important may lie in better understanding mental time keeping and related interventions. The original article can be viewed by clicking here.

Possibly more on this in the future.


Anonymous said...


By an odd coidencidence I'm scheduled to go and see the Interative Metronome program in action next week for a review on Myomancy.

The possibilty of a connection between rhythm and learning difficulties has interested me for a while. Mostly from observing how badly my LD friends dance.
Rhythm and Dyslexia

Anonymous said...

To the extent that the cerebellum is involved in academic performance this seems to have some merit. I recall reading something about the phonological loop and the cerebellum in the Wolf book "Dyslexia, fluency, and the Brain." It's been awhile so I don't recall the specifics.

Another popular non-academic intervention is something called balavisics (not sure on the spelling) that uses balancing and object tossing to improve the "vestibular system". I couldn't find it on the web with my spelling but I recall that it was invented by a former NASA engineer (or so the story goes) so I googled those key words and I did find: