Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS) involves synchronizing footsteps to music or a metronome to improve gait speed and stability in patients with neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. However, responses to RAS vary across individuals, perhaps because of differences in enjoyment of the music or in musical abilities.
Intuitively, musical enjoyment may influence gait responses to RAS, but enjoyment has not been systematically manipulated nor the effects empirically assessed. In addition, differences in beat perception ability are likely to influence gait responses to music, particularly when synchronizing to the beat. Therefore, we asked: how does music enjoyment alter gait, and do gait parameters differ between individuals with good versus poor beat perception ability, specifically when instructed to ‘walk freely’ versus ‘synchronize to the beat’?
Young adults and older adults walked on a pressure sensor walkway in silence and to music that they had rated as either high or low in enjoyment, as well as a metronome. All stimuli were presented at 15 % faster than baseline cadence. Participants either walked freely to the music or synchronized to the beat.
Music enjoyment had no significant effects on gait in either younger or older adults. Compared to baseline, younger adults walked faster (by taking longer strides) to music than the metronome, whereas older adults walked faster (by taking more steps per minute) to the metronome than music. When instructed to synchronize vs. walk freely, young adults walked faster, but older adults walked slower. Finally, regardless of instruction type, young adults with poor beat perception took shorter and slower strides to the music, whereas older adults with poor beat perception took slower strides to the music.
Beat perception ability, instruction type, and age affect gait more than music enjoyment does, and thus should be considered when optimizing RAS outcomes.

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