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Hear Res. 2004 Aug;194(1-2):31-46.

Pitch is determined by naturally occurring periodic sounds.

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Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and Department of Neurobiology, Duke University, Box 90999, Durham, NC 27708-0999, USA.


The phenomenology of pitch has been difficult to rationalize and remains the subject of much debate. Here we test the hypothesis that audition generates pitch percepts by relating inherently ambiguous sound stimuli to their probable sources in the human auditory environment. A database of speech sounds, the principal source of periodic sound energy for human listeners, was compiled and the dominant periodicity of each speech sound determined. A set of synthetic test stimuli were used to assess whether the major pitch phenomena described in the literature could be explained by the probabilistic relationship between the stimuli and their probable sources (i.e., speech sounds). The phenomena tested included the perception of the missing fundamental, the pitch-shift of the residue, spectral dominance and the perception of pitch strength. In each case, the conditional probability distribution of speech sound periodicities accurately predicted the pitches normally heard in response to the test stimuli. We conclude from these findings that pitch entails an auditory process that relates inevitably ambiguous sound stimuli to their probable natural sources.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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