Being discrete helps keep to the beat

Mark Elliott, Andrew Welchman, Alan Wing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

52 Citations (Scopus)


Synchronising our actions with external events is a task we perform without apparent effort. Its foundation relies on accurate temporal control that is widely accepted to take one of two different modes of implementation: explicit timing for discrete actions and implicit timing for smooth continuous movements. Here we assess synchronisation performance for different types of action and test the degree to which each action supports corrective updating following changes in the environment. Participants performed three different finger actions in time with an auditory pacing stimulus allowing us to assess synchronisation performance. Presenting a single perturbation to the otherwise regular metronome allowed us to examine corrections supported by movements varying in their mode of timing implementation. We find that discrete actions are less variable and support faster error correction. As such, discrete actions may be preferred when engaging in time-critical adaptive behaviour with people and objects in a dynamic environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)731-737
Number of pages7
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Early online date2 Dec 2008
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


  • Timing
  • Discrete actions
  • Continuous actions
  • Movement
  • Synchronisation


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