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Mistakes due to nervousness are caused by auditory information errors: Discovery of how to improve piano performance

2022.04.18

No matter how highly skilled a musician or athlete, tension and nervousness can reduce performance. Abnormalities in cognitive and autonomic function have long been hypothesized to underlie this phenomenon.

Using a "variable auditory feedback system" that allows for the control of the timing, pitch, and volume of piano sound production, Shinichi Furuya, a researcher at Sony Computer Science Laboratories, discovered that when you are nervous, mistakes occur due to errors in auditory information processing. Specifically, he confirmed that transiently delaying the timing of piano sound production by 80 milliseconds during a subject's performance resulted in disruption of the player's auditory information processing only when they were nervous, resulting in inaccurate timing of the key-strike immediately afterwards. In a nervous state, the ability to integrate hearing and movement is impaired, indicating that finger movements react excessively to abnormal auditory stimuli, resulting in mistakes.

(Left) By modifying the keystroke information after it is received by the system operating on the personal computer and transmitting it to the electronic piano, the performer can hear a sound that differs from the intended sound.
(Right) Error in keystroke timing when playing after training. Very little disturbance occurred in ②.
On the other hand, although performance in ① was lower than in ③, it was not as good as in ②.

Next, the subjects were divided into three groups: (1) a compensation group that tries to recover the delay, (2) a delay-ignoring group that keeps playing without worrying about the delay, and (3) a resting group that does nothing in particular. After some practice time, the above experiment was undertaken. After the experiment was completed, in group (2), the performance was not disturbed even if the sound output timing was delayed.

These results suggest that training can produce stable performance, even when the performer is nervous. In the future, it is hoped that training methods that can be applied in other fields will be developed, and that the mechanisms of the brain, body, and mind related to body movements that occur when a person is nervous will be elucidated.

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