The effect of dopaminergic medication on beat-based auditory timing in Parkinson's disease

Daniel J. Cameron, Kristen A. Pickett, Gammon M. Earhart, Jessica A. Grahn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Parkinson's disease (PD) adversely affects timing abilities. Beat-based timing is a mechanism that times events relative to a regular interval, such as the "beat" in musical rhythm, and is impaired in PD. It is unknown if dopaminergic medication influences beat-based timing in PD. Here, we tested beat-based timing over two sessions in participants with PD (OFF then ON dopaminergic medication) and in unmedicated control participants. People with PD and control participants completed two tasks. The first was a discrimination task in which participants compared two rhythms and determined whether they were the same or different. Rhythms either had a beat structure (metric simple rhythms) or did not (metric complex rhythms), as in previous studies. Discrimination accuracy was analyzed to test for the effects of beat structure, as well as differences between participants with PD and controls, and effects of medication (PD group only). The second task was the Beat Alignment Test (BAT), in which participants listened to music with regular tones superimposed, and responded as to whether the tones were "ON" or "OFF" the beat of the music. Accuracy was analyzed to test for differences between participants with PD and controls, and for an effect of medication in patients. Both patients and controls discriminated metric simple rhythms better than metric complex rhythms. Controls also improved at the discrimination task in the second vs. first session, whereas people with PD did not. For participants with PD, the difference in performance between metric simple and metric complex rhythms was greater (sensitivity to changes in simple rhythms increased and sensitivity to changes in complex rhythms decreased) when ON vs. OFF medication. Performance also worsened with disease severity. For the BAT, no group differences or effects of medication were found. Overall, these findings suggest that timing is impaired in PD, and that dopaminergic medication influences beat-based and non-beat-based timing differently. Judging the beat in music does not appear to be affected by PD or by dopaminergic medication.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
Issue numberFEB
StatePublished - Feb 22 2016


  • Beat perception
  • Dopamine
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Rhythm
  • Timing


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