Symmetric interactions and interference between pitch and timbre

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Variations in the spectral shape of harmonic tone complexes are perceived as timbre changes and can lead to poorer fundamental frequency (F0) or pitch discrimination. Less is known about the effects of F0 variations on spectral shape discrimination. The aims of the study were to determine whether the interactions between pitch and timbre are symmetric, and to test whether musical training affects listeners' ability to ignore variations in irrelevant perceptual dimensions. Difference limens (DLs) for F0 were measured with and without random, concurrent, variations in spectral centroid, and vice versa. Additionally, sensitivity was measured as the target parameter and the interfering parameter varied by the same amount, in terms of individual DLs. Results showed significant and similar interference between pitch (F0) and timbre (spectral centroid) dimensions, with upward spectral motion often confused for upward F0 motion, and vice versa. Musicians had better F0DLs than non-musicians on average, but similar spectral centroid DLs. Both groups showed similar interference effects, in terms of decreased sensitivity, in both dimensions. Results reveal symmetry in the interference effects between pitch and timbre, once differences in sensitivity between dimensions and subjects are controlled. Musical training does not reliably help to overcome these effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1371-1379
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014


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