Abstract: Diversity in pitch perception revealed by task dependence

Diversity in pitch perception revealed by task dependence

M J McPherson and J H McDermott

Published in Nature Human Behavior, vol.2 pp. 52-66, Jan 2018.

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  • Pitch conveys critical information in speech, music, and other natural sounds, and is conventionally defined as the perceptual correlate of a sound's fundamental frequency (F0). Although pitch is widely assumed to be subserved by a single F0 estimation process, real-world pitch tasks vary enormously, raising the possibility of underlying mechanistic diversity. To probe pitch mechanisms we conducted a battery of pitch-related music and speech tasks using conventional harmonic sounds and inharmonic sounds whose frequencies lack a common F0. Some pitch-related abilities - those relying on musical interval or voice recognition - were strongly impaired by inharmonicity, suggesting a reliance on F0. However, other tasks, including those dependent on pitch contours in speech and music, were unaffected by inharmonicity, suggesting a mechanism that tracks the frequency spectrum rather than the F0. The results suggest that pitch perception is mediated by several different mechanisms, only some of which conform to traditional notions of pitch.
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