Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Perceptual Hysteresis in the Judgment of Auditory Pitch Shift

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Perceptual Hysteresis in the Judgment of Auditory Pitch Shift

Article excerpt

Published online: 30 May 2014

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Perceptual hysteresis can be defined as the enduring influence of the recent past on current perception. Here, hysteresis was investigated in a basic auditory task: pitch comparisons between successive tones. On each trial, listeners were presented with pairs of tones and asked to report the direction of subjective pitch shift, as either "up" or "down." All tones were complexes known as Shepard tones (Shepard, 1964), which comprise several frequency components at octave multiples of a base frequency. The results showed that perceptual judgments were determined both by stimulus-related factors (the interval ratio between the base frequencies within a pair) and by recent context (the intervals in the two previous trials). When tones were presented in ordered sequences, for which the frequency interval between tones was varied in a progressive manner, strong hysteresis was found. In particular, ambiguous stimuli that led to equal probabilities of "up" and "down" responses within a randomized context were almost fully determined within an ordered context. Moreover, hysteresis did not act on the direction of the reported pitch shift, but rather on the perceptual representation of each tone. Thus, hysteresis could be observed within sequences in which listeners varied between "up" and "down" responses, enabling us to largely rule out confounds related to response bias. The strength of the perceptual hysteresis observed suggests that the ongoing context may have a substantial influence on fundamental aspects of auditory perception, such as how we perceive the changes in pitch between successive sounds.

Keywords Adaptation . Aftereffects . Hearing . Psychoacoustics

Sometimes, presenting the same physical stimulus twice re- sults in different perceptual outcomes. This is obviously true around threshold, but this can also occur above threshold, in the perception of stimuli that have more than one plausible perceptual interpretation. Such ambiguous stimuli have been extensively used in the study of visual multistability, where prolonged exposure leads to spontaneous alternations of per- ception in the mind of the observer (see Leopold & Logothetis, 1999, for a review). The perception of ambiguous visual stimuli has also been shown to be prone to context effects (Hock, Kelso, & Schöner, 1993; Kanai & Verstraten, 2005; Leopold, Wilke, Maier, & Logothetis, 2002; Maloney, Dal Martello, Sahm, & Spillmann, 2005;Noest,vanEe,Nijs, &vanWezel,2007). In all of these studies, the perception of an ambiguous stimulus was strongly modulated by the recent history of stimulation and/or perception. This occurs because ambiguity serves to highlight general-purpose contextual pro- cesses: If nothing in the stimulus favors one interpretation over others, then the context may become the decisive factor. Ambiguous stimuli may thus be a useful experimental tool to characterize contextual processing, without the competing influence of stimulus-related cues.

To date, auditory science has made less use of experimental paradigms relying on ambiguous stimuli than vision science. That being said, instances of auditory multistability do exist, most notably related to auditory scene analysis (see Schwartz, Grimault, Hupé, Moore, & Pressnitzer, 2012,forareview). Context effects in ambiguous auditory stimuli have also been reported (Holt, 2005, 2006; Huang & Holt, 2012; Laing, Liu, Lotto, & Holt, 2012; Snyder, Carter, Hannon, & Alain, 2009; Snyder, Carter, Lee, Hannon, & Alain, 2008). The aforemen- tioned studies used tasks related to presumably high-level constructs, such as perceptual organization (Snyder et al., 2009; Snyder et al., 2008) or speech phoneme classification (Holt, 2005, 2006; Huang & Holt, 2012; Laing et al., 2012). Here, we aimed to use ambiguous stimuli to investigate the influence of context on a more basic auditory task-namely, comparing the pitch of two successive tones. …

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