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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2011 Feb;37(1):257-69. doi: 10.1037/a0020670.

Perceptual grouping affects pitch judgments across time and frequency.

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Auditory Perception and Cognition Laboratory, Department of Psychology, Uiversity of Minnesota, Twin Cities, MN, USA.


Pitch, the perceptual correlate of fundamental frequency (F0), plays an important role in speech, music, and animal vocalizations. Changes in F0 over time help define musical melodies and speech prosody, while comparisons of simultaneous F0 are important for musical harmony, and for segregating competing sound sources. This study compared listeners' ability to detect differences in F0 between pairs of sequential or simultaneous tones that were filtered into separate, nonoverlapping spectral regions. The timbre differences induced by filtering led to poor F0 discrimination in the sequential, but not the simultaneous, conditions. Temporal overlap of the two tones was not sufficient to produce good performance; instead performance appeared to depend on the two tones being integrated into the same perceptual object. The results confirm the difficulty of comparing the pitches of sequential sounds with different timbres and suggest that, for simultaneous sounds, pitch differences may be detected through a decrease in perceptual fusion rather than an explicit coding and comparison of the underlying F0s.

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