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Nat Hum Behav. 2018 Jan;2(1):52-66. doi: 10.1038/s41562-017-0261-8. Epub 2017 Dec 11.

Diversity in pitch perception revealed by task dependence.

Author information

1
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA. mjmcp@mit.edu.
2
Program in Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. mjmcp@mit.edu.
3
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA.
4
Program in Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA.

Abstract

Pitch conveys critical information in speech, music, and other natural sounds, and is conventionally defined as the perceptual correlate of a sound's fundamental frequency (F0). Although pitch is widely assumed to be subserved by a single F0 estimation process, real-world pitch tasks vary enormously, raising the possibility of underlying mechanistic diversity. To probe pitch mechanisms we conducted a battery of pitch-related music and speech tasks using conventional harmonic sounds and inharmonic sounds whose frequencies lack a common F0. Some pitch-related abilities - those relying on musical interval or voice recognition - were strongly impaired by inharmonicity, suggesting a reliance on F0. However, other tasks, including those dependent on pitch contours in speech and music, were unaffected by inharmonicity, suggesting a mechanism that tracks the frequency spectrum rather than the F0. The results suggest that pitch perception is mediated by several different mechanisms, only some of which conform to traditional notions of pitch.

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