The principle of common coding suggests that a joint representation is formed when actions are repeatedly paired with a specific perceptual event. Musicians are occupationally specialized with regard to the coupling between actions and their auditory effects. In the present study, we employed a novel paradigm to demonstrate automatic action-effect associations in pianists. Pianists and nonmusicians pressed keys according to aurally presented number sequences. Numbers were presented at pitches that were neutral, congruent, or incongruent with respect to pitches that would normally be produced by such actions. Response time differences were seen between congruent and incongruent sequences in pianists alone. A second experiment was conducted to determine whether these effects could be attributed to the existence of previously documented spatial/pitch compatibility effects. In a "stretched" version of the task, the pitch distance over which the numbers were presented was enlarged to a range that could not be produced by the hand span used in Experiment 1. The finding of a larger response time difference between congruent and incongruent trials in the original, standard, version compared with the stretched version, in pianists, but not in nonmusicians, indicates that the effects obtained are, at least partially, attributable to learned action effects.
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