What is personal tempo?

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Personal tempo is a hypothesized general speed of activity in a person. The idea is that people have a general level of speed that applies to much of their activity. People with slow personal tempo may cook, walk, talk, read, and wash the dishes slowly. And people with fast personal tempo may do all those things quickly.

The notion of personal tempo has been studied in psychology, but mostly in the first half of the 1900's. The evidence for the existence of personal tempo is mixed (see Do people have a general speed?).

Early attempts to measure Personal Tempo involved repetitive motions, like clapping or tapping a finger which were often assumed to represent a general level of speed of the individual.

Where are we with this question?[edit | edit source]

We are still doing a review of the available research.


  • add sources to this list
  • maybe put them in zotero or some other citation manager
  • pull out relevant quotes
  • find relevant sources from inside these papers

Possibly Useful Search Terms[edit | edit source]

  • Personal tempo
  • Internal tempo
  • Behavioral speed
  • Speed as a personality trait
  • Everyday speed
  • General speed
  • Spontaneous motor tempo
  • Slow mind
  • Slow minded
  • plodder
  • Slowpoke
  • Slowcoach
  • Slow at everything

Sources[edit | edit source]

Spontaneous Motor Tempo[edit | edit source]

"Spontaneous motor tempo (SMT) can be observed in many daily activities such as walking, hand clapping, or swimming. It describes the tempo of self-paced regular and repeated movements and corresponds to the preferred and natural pace to carry out isochronous motor actions, hence SMT is also called internal tempo (Boltz, 1994; Vanneste et al., 2001)."[1] Much of the early work on personal tempo assumed that it could be measured by measuring rhythmic activity, in other words, spontaneous motor tempo. It is clear that SMT was taken to indicate a more general speed in early studies. But in later studies that connection was lost. Although research on personal tempo has largely stopped, the use of finger tapping as a measurement has continued. And this seems to be the biggest legacy of that early personal tempo work. It's not entirely clear if SMT accurately measures personal tempo, but it seems plausible that it would.

  • Justin London, Marc Thompson, Birgitta Burger, Molly Hildreth & Petri Toiviainen (2019) Tapping doesn’t help: Synchronized self-motion and judgments of musical tempo
    • "Martens (2011) asked participants to tap along with music that afforded both faster and slower synchronization rates and found three distinct synchronization strategies: (a) slow tappers, who consistently tapped at slower periods; (b) fast tappers, who consistently tapped at faster periods; and (c) “switchers,” who tapped at both fast and slow periods—though “switchers” did not change their tapping rate within any given trial. Whether one is a “fast tapper” or a “slow tapper” can be related to one’s spontaneous motor tempo (SMT), also known as personal tempo or natural pace. SMT is measured by asking participants, absent any external rhythmic stimulus or context, to simply tap or walk at a comfortable rate that is neither too slow nor too fast."
  • Sinead Rocha, Victoria Southgate, Denis Mareschal, (2020) Infant Spontaneous Motor Tempo
    • "It has been widely reported that both adult SMT and adult walking cadence lie in the range of 600 ms IOI, or around 120 beats per minute (Fraisse, 1982). One possibility is that this relationship is causal, with walking cadence being the origin of our preferred tempo at which to move, and perhaps even to listen. Studies revealing correlations between anthropometrics (measures of body size) and SMT have been used to argue for this possibility, following the logic that body size may be used as a proxy for walking cadence, as rate of locomotion should be set by the mechanics of the human body (see Repp, 2007; Todd & Lee, 2007, for debate on this subject). Studies of adults suggest larger bodies prefer slower rhythms. Spontaneous Motor Tempo is often measured as the inter‐onset interval (IOI) between a person's self‐paced finger taps (Fraisse, 1982). Adult SMT is highly stable, showing little intra‐individual variability across testing sessions spanning several days (Vanneste, Pouthas, & Wearden, 2001). However, across the lifespan, SMT is known to change. Children's SMT is faster than adults, who are in turn faster than older people, with a cubic relationship suggesting that SMT slows with age during childhood and late adulthood, but remains consistent through mid‐adulthood (aged 18–38 years, M = 630 ms IOI; McAuley, Jones, Holub, Johnston, & Miller, 2006)."
  • David Hammerschmidt, Klaus Frieler, and Clemens Wöllner, (2021) Spontaneous Motor Tempo: Investigating Psychological, Chronobiological, and Demographic Factors in a Large-Scale Online Tapping Experiment
    • "SMT is a central feature in the psychophysics of time perception and plays a crucial role for timing and time processes. According to McAuley and Jones (2003), prevalent models of time experiences can be classified into interval-based and entrainment-based mechanisms. Interval models assume an “internal clock,” which is described in terms of a pacemaker producing periodic pulses (Treisman, 1963; Grondin, 2010; Allman et al., 2014). Entrainment models like the dynamic attending theory, on the other hand, propose self-sustaining oscillations as the underlying mechanism of time perception, with attentional pulses reflecting attending energy at a given point of time (Jones and Boltz, 1989; Large and Jones, 1999). Both classes of models (i.e., interval-based and entrainment-based) share the assumption of an intrinsic timekeeper, that is the pacemaker in interval models and the oscillator in entrainment models. SMT can be seen as an estimate of this intrinsic timekeeper, reflecting the pacemaker's preferred pulse rate or the oscillator's preferred period, respectively."