Distinct rhythmic abilities align with phonological awareness and rapid naming in school-age children


Difficulty in performing rhythmic tasks often co-occurs with literacy difficulties. Motivated by evidence showing that people can vary in their performance across different rhythmic tasks, we asked whether two rhythmic skills identified as distinct in school-age children and young adults would reveal similar or different relationships with two literacy skills known to be important for successful reading development. We addressed our question by focusing on 55 typically developing children (ages 5–8). Results show that drumming to a beat predicted the variability of rapid naming but not of phonological awareness, whereas tapping rhythmic patterns predicted phonological awareness, but not rapid naming. Our finding suggests that rhythmic interventions can be tailored to address PA and RAN deficits specifically in reading disabled children.

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  1. 1.

    The trending behavior between PA and beat performance is entirely driven by the two observations in the lower left corner of the top left scatterplot in Fig. 3. If we were to exclude those two points, then we will get r = .077, p = .592. Conversely, removing those two subjects with poor PA scores leaves the PA/Rhythm Pattern finding nearly unaffected: r = .410, p = .003. We take this as evidence supporting our claim that the relationship between PA and Beat performance is not robust, while the PA and Rhythm Pattern performance is.


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We thank past and present members of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory for their contribution to this work and children and families who participated in this study. This work was supported by the National Institute of Health (R01 HD069414; F31 DC016205), the National Science Foundation (BCS 1430400), National Association of Music Merchants, Hunter Family Foundation, Dana foundation, and the G. Harold and Leila Y. Mathers Charitable Foundation.

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SB, JK, TW-S, TN, and NK designed research; SB performed research; JK, TW-S, and TN contributed analytic techniques; SB analyzed data; the first draft of the manuscript was written by SB; and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Nina Kraus.

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All procedures performed in this study were approved by Northwestern University Institutional Review Board.

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Bonacina, S., Krizman, J., White-Schwoch, T. et al. Distinct rhythmic abilities align with phonological awareness and rapid naming in school-age children. Cogn Process (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10339-020-00984-6

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  • Rhythm
  • Literacy
  • Beat
  • Patterns
  • Phonological awareness
  • Rapid naming