Tap a Tempo

Dr Peter Lovatt at the University of Hertfordshire’s Dance Psychology Lab has teamed up with Qualtrics to develop something which they hope will give them a greater understanding of some aspects of Parkinson’s disease. They have designed a new game called Tap a Tempo which measures people’s ability to tap along to a piece of music and continue tapping at the same rate in silence. It simply involves tapping on the screen of your phone or clicking a mouse for about 30 seconds. You can try it out for yourself at www.tapatempo.com.

What does this tell us about Parkinson’s? A large body of scientific evidence suggests that when people with Parkinson’s dance to music there is an improvement in a range of symptoms and walking speed and stride length. It seems to be the case that for people with Parkinson’s moving to music with a strong beat is helpful for executing certain movements.

Tap a Tempo taps in to two timing processes in the brain. In the first part of the game people have to tap along to a piece of music. This task involves the perception of rhythm and coordinating your movements with the beats in the music. In the second part of the game people have to keep tapping at the same rate without the beats. This means that they must keep time by using an internally generated timing cue. In other words, when people are tapping in silence they have to rely on an internal sense of rhythm. There has been some research which suggests that people with Parkinson’s have difficulties with this second type of timing, that is they find it harder than people without Parkinson’s to maintain an internal sense of rhythm.

The research team, led by Dr Peter Lovatt, Reader in the Psychology of Dance at the University, want tens of thousands of people, young and old, male and female, people with Parkinson’s and people without Parkinson’s, people who love to dance and people who hate to dance, to play Tap a Tempo, because it will help them understand how different rhythm and timing processes change as a function of age and other factors. After gathering this large data set they will move on to the second stage of the project.

Second Stage

The research team want to understand how people’s rhythm and timing change over time.  For example, does timing change across the day, so that it’s better at some points in the day than others? Do changes in timing affect activities of daily living, such as walking, eating, and interpersonal interaction? Does timing improve after exercise or dancing? The research team often hear people say things like they find it easier to do the gardening, or walk to the shops, the day after attending a dance or singing session. Perhaps it’s the case that dancing or singing provides a boost to the neurobiological mechanisms supporting internal timing processes and this boost lasts for several hours, or perhaps a few days after the exercise has stopped, and it is this which helps people engage more easily with certain activities (this is just a hypothesis at this stage). To test these ideas, we want to develop Tap a Tempo so that people can take rhythm and timing measures quickly and accurately several times a day, or before and after a dance class or at times when they are either feeling in states of low or high mood. We want to understand how timing varies, and see how such variations in timing are related to a range of symptoms associated with Parkinson’s.

Go online and try it for yourself.