Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Tonal Priming Is Resistant to Changes in Pitch Height

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Tonal Priming Is Resistant to Changes in Pitch Height

Article excerpt

Published online: 25 April 2015

# The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract Research on tonal priming has consistently shown that tonally expected events are processed more efficiently and has confirmed that the locus of the effect is cognitive rather than sensory. However, it is also important to investigate the role of pitch height, because models of tonal priming collapse across octaves, yet it is possible that pitch height may modulate the effectiveness of tonal priming. We systematically tested this issue by varying the pitch heights of a related (tonic) or a less-related (subdominant) target chord following a tonal context. Musically untrained participants (N = 30) made speeded consonant/dissonant judgments of the final chord of an eight-chord sequence. The effects of tonal priming emerged in accuracy and reaction time measures for all octaves, except for a ceiling effect on accuracy in the matching (original pitch height) condition. In a second experiment, we increased the shift to two octaves and compressed the chords to eliminate overlap between the target and context chords; again, tonal priming emerged. These findings have implications for the behavioral study of tonal priming and support the assumption of octave equivalence in computational models.

Keywords Music cognition . Pitch perception . Priming

Cognitive processes are fundamentally based on prediction: By predicting the most likely subsequent event, an organism has a better chance of reacting to it in a beneficial way. Some of these expectancies emerge from relatively simple surface information, but predictions are also formed for events derived from deeper structural patterns. For example, an increase in the amplitude of successive sound events creates an expectation for the next sound to be yet louder. This prediction arises from information immediately available at the surface level of the stimulus. Conversely, a semantic word prime need not have any acoustic similarity to its target (e.g., doctor-nurse). Thus, both sensory and cognitive priming contribute to the formation of expectancies.

The roles of sensory and cognitive priming are especially important in music, in particular with regard to tonal priming (for a review, see Collins, Tillmann, Barrett, Delbé, & Janata, 2014). This phenomenon typically refers to the fact that for listeners enculturated in Western music, a prime chord (multiple simultaneous notes) creates a strong expectation for a musically related chord (Bharucha & Stoeckig, 1986;Bigand, Poulin, Tillmann, Madurell, & D'Adamo, 2003). This concept is equally applicable to monophonic sequences of single notes, or melodies (Boltz, 1989; Marmel & Tillmann, 2009; Marmel, Tillmann, & Delbe, 2010).

In any given musical key, the tonic chord is the most musically expected, psychologically stable, and frequently occurring chord (Krumhansl, 1990). It consists of the most expected/stable/frequent pitch classes in that key. By virtue of this privileged status, listeners are faster and better at processing events that occur synchronously with a tonic chord, regardless of their level of formal musical training (Bigand & Poulin-Charronnat, 2006). These need not be musical tasks-tonal priming is evident in unrelated tasks such as phoneme identification (Bigand, Tillmann, Poulin, D'Adamo, & Madurell, 2001),andevenvisual object recognition (Escoffier & Tillmann, 2008). Such findings suggest that tonal priming modulates central attentional mechanisms rather than music-specific ones. This effect consists of both facilitation of related chords and inhibition of lessrelated chords (Tillmann, Janata, Birk, & Bharucha, 2003, 2008), rather than a simple graded inhibition whereby the tonic chord interferes the least.

Before accepting that tonal priming is a cognitive phenomenon, explanations based on the raw sensory information must be ruled out. The hierarchy of chords in musical stability is correlated with their acoustic similarity, so perhaps sensorybased repetition priming may drive the effect rather than a cognitive musical relation. …

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