Time-dependent discrimination advantages for harmonic sounds suggest efficient coding for memory

TitleTime-dependent discrimination advantages for harmonic sounds suggest efficient coding for memory
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsMcPherson, MJ, McDermott, JH
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Pagination32169 - 32180
Date Published12/2020

Perceptual systems have finite memory resources and must store incoming signals in compressed formats. To explore whether representations of a sound's pitch might derive from this need for compression, we compared discrimination of harmonic and inharmonic sounds across delays. In contrast to inharmonic spectra, harmonic spectra can be summarized, and thus compressed, using their fundamental frequency (f0). Participants heard two sounds and judged which was higher. Despite being comparable for sounds presented back-to-back, discrimination was better for harmonic than inharmonic stimuli when sounds were separated in time, implicating memory representations unique to harmonic sounds. Patterns of individual differences (correlations between thresholds in different conditions) indicated that listeners use different representations depending on the time delay between sounds, directly comparing the spectra of temporally adjacent sounds, but transitioning to comparing f0s across delays. The need to store sound in memory appears to determine reliance on f0-based pitch, and may explain its importance in music, in which listeners must extract relationships between notes separated in time.

Short TitleProc Natl Acad Sci USA

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