Psychological Research

, Volume 79, Issue 2, pp 175–182 | Cite as

Listening to music primes space: pianists, but not novices, simulate heard actions

  • J. Eric T. TaylorEmail author
  • Jessica K. Witt
Original Article


Musicians sometimes report twitching in their fingers or hands while listening to music. This anecdote could be indicative of a tendency for auditory-motor co-representation in musicians. Here, we describe two studies showing that pianists (Experiment 1), but not novices (Experiment 2) automatically generate spatial representations that correspond to learned musical actions while listening to music. Participants made one-handed movements to the left or right from a central location in response to visual stimuli while listening to task-irrelevant auditory stimuli, which were scales played on a piano. These task-irrelevant scales were either ascending (compatible with rightward movements) or descending (compatible with leftward movements). Pianists were faster to respond when the scale direction was compatible with the direction of response movement, whereas novices’ movements were unaffected by the scale. These results are in agreement with existing research on action–effect coupling in musicians, which draw heavily on common coding theory. In addition, these results show how intricate auditory stimuli (ascending or descending scales) evoke coarse, domain-general spatial representations.


Spatial Representation Compatibility Effect Motor Process Common Code Musical Action 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Jessica K. Witt was supported by a Grant from the National Science Foundation (BCS-0957051).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Colorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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