Human discrimination and modeling of highfrequency complex tones shed light on the neural codes for pitch

Daniel R. Guest, Andrew J. Oxenham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Accurate pitch perception of harmonic complex tones is widely believed to rely on temporal fine structure information conveyed by the precise phase-locked responses of auditorynerve fibers. However, accurate pitch perception remains possible even when spectrally resolved harmonics are presented at frequencies beyond the putative limits of neural phase locking, and it is unclear whether residual temporal information, or a coarser rate-place code, underlies this ability. We addressed this question by measuring human pitch discrimination at low and high frequencies for harmonic complex tones, presented either in isolation or in the presence of concurrent complex-tone maskers. We found that concurrent complextone maskers impaired performance at both low and high frequencies, although the impairment introduced by adding maskers at high frequencies relative to low frequencies differed between the tested masker types. We then combined simulated auditory-nerve responses to our stimuli with ideal-observer analysis to quantify the extent to which performance was limited by peripheral factors. We found that the worsening of both frequency discrimination and F0 discrimination at high frequencies could be well accounted for (in relative terms) by optimal decoding of all available information at the level of the auditory nerve. A Python package is provided to reproduce these results, and to simulate responses to acoustic stimuli from the three previously published models of the human auditory nerve used in our analyses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1009889
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Guest, Oxenham. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


  • Acoustic Stimulation/methods
  • Cochlear Nerve/physiology
  • Humans
  • Pitch Perception/physiology

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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