Is timing different for pitchers and pianists?

    • Topic: Human Biology

    • Location: Hall of Human Life

    The human body is made up of hundreds of muscles, and moving through the world requires careful coordination between them. Timing of muscle contractions is an essential part of coordinated action and may be different depending on the type of activity. Scientists have found that different parts of the brain are active in the timing of rhythmic activities where coordination is continuous (e.g., dancing and playing musical instruments) compared to short, discrete movements (e.g., throwing and kicking). We are interested in understanding how rhythmic and discrete timing compare in people of all ages.

    In this study, people (ages 5 and up) will play two games. For discrete timing, people will swing a mechanical arm to throw a virtual ball at a target. For rhythmic timing, people will tap their finger to the beat of a metronome. We predict that timing in the two games will be different and that performance in the two tasks may change with age in different ways.

    This study will help us understand how the brain works to coordinate movements that require different kinds of timing and how these skills develop. We hope that our results will eventually help people develop better rehabilitation for neuromuscular diseases.

    Northeastern University Action Lab

        » Northeastern University Action Lab

    Activities to Try in the Hall of Human Life

    Keeping Your Balance

    Our brains constantly receive signals from our eyes, inner ears, and muscles about the position of our bodies. Our brain uses this information to coordinate muscles throughout our entire body to maintain and adjust our balance from moment to moment.

    Find the “Is Your Balance As Good As It Gets?” link station in the Time environment. This activity challenges you to think about your balance in a new way. Think about all of the work you did today just traveling through the Museum today. Do you think walking involves discrete timing or rhythmic timing?

    Activities to Try at Home

    The Dollar Race

    Challenge a friend to race you to catching a dollar. Hold the dollar in one hand about 8 inches above a table. Have your friend put their hand directly on top of yours and hold your other hand about 6 inches above theirs. As soon as you let go of the dollar (and not before!) you both race to move your hands around the one that dropped the dollar to touch it first. Who do you think will win? Does it matter if you hold your other hand closer or further away?

    You are both coordinating the start of your race towards the dollar with the same event, you dropping the dollar, but are you the same information?

    Try swapping places.

Research Spotlight

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