No interaction between fundamental-frequency differences and spectral region when perceiving speech in a speech background

Sara Miay Kim Madsen, Torsten Dau, Andrew J. Oxenham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Differences in fundamental frequency (F0) or pitch between competing voices facilitate our ability to segregate a target voice from interferers, thereby enhancing speech intelligibility. Although lower-numbered harmonics elicit a stronger and more accurate pitch sensation than higher-numbered harmonics, it is unclear whether the stronger pitch leads to an increased benefit of pitch differences when segregating competing talkers. To answer this question, sentence recognition was tested in young normal-hearing listeners in the presence of a single competing talker. The stimuli were presented in a broadband condition or were highpass or lowpass filtered to manipulate the pitch accuracy of the voicing, while maintaining roughly equal speech intelligibility in the highpass and lowpass regions. Performance was measured with average F0 differences (ΔF0) between the target and single-talker masker of 0, 2, and 4 semitones. Pitch discrimination abilities were also measured to confirm that the lowpass-filtered stimuli elicited greater pitch accuracy than the highpass-filtered stimuli. No interaction was found between filter type and ΔF0 in the sentence recognition task, suggesting little or no effect of harmonic rank or pitch accuracy on the ability to use F0 to segregate natural voices, even when the average ΔF0 is relatively small. The results suggest that listeners are able to obtain some benefit of pitch differences between competing voices, even when pitch salience and accuracy is low.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0249654
JournalPloS one
Issue number4 April
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
SM is funded by the William Demant Foundation ( AJO is funded by NIH grant R01 DC005216 The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Madsen et al. 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.


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