Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Serial Processing in Melody Identification and the Organization of Musical Semantic Memory

Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Serial Processing in Melody Identification and the Organization of Musical Semantic Memory

Article excerpt

Unlike the visual stimuli used in most object identification experiments, melodies are organized temporally rather than spatially. Therefore, they may be particularly sensitive to manipulations of the order in which information is revealed. Two experiments examined whether the initial elements of a melody are differentially important for identification. Initial exposures to impoverished versions of a melody significantly decreased subsequent identification, especially when the early exposures did not include the initial notes of the melody. Analyses of the initial notes indicated that they are differentially important for melody identification because they help the listener detect the overall structure of the melody. Confusion errors tended to be songs that either were drawn from the same genre or shared similar phrasing. These data indicate that conceptual processing influences melody identification, that phrase-level information is used to organize melodies in semantic memory, and that phrase-level information is required to effectively search semantic memory.

Most theories of object identification are based on evidence gathered either from visual or verbal stimuli. These theories generally do not consider musical stimuli, although melodies are frequently encountered and easily identified both inside and outside of the laboratory (Bartlett & Snelus, 1980; Cuddy, 1993; Hébert & Peretz, 1997; Schulkind, Hennis, & Rubin, 1999; White, 1960; Yalch, 1991). Thus, additional research and theorizing about melody identification is justified because of its relevance to real-world behavior. In addition, research on melody identification is of theoretical interest because it may shed light on the generalizability of extant theories and may broaden our conception of the processes involved in object identification. In fact, several lines of evidence suggest that melody identification is not exactly analogous to identification of the kinds of objects traditionally studied in the literature. For example, whereas presenting a subject with the name of a distractor does not influence the identification of line drawings (Snodgrass & Hirshman, 1991), such a manipulation reliably decreases the identification of familiar melodies (Schulkind, 2002). Furthermore, lateral competition-interference caused by nontarget foils (e.g., knowledge of "dog" interferes with identifying "cat")-is a central component of most theories of visual object and spoken word identification (Jusczyk & Luce, 2002) but does not appear to play a role in melody identification (Schulkind, 2004).

Although the failure to observe effects of lateral competition is at odds with most theories of visual object identification, it is consistent with the cohort model of spoken word identification (Marslen-Wilson, 1987). Interestingly, spoken words and melodies share one feature that is atypical of many of the kinds of stimuli that are used in the visual object identification literature: Whereas visual objects are primarily spatial stimuli, spoken words and melodies are primarily temporal stimuli. Melodies and spoken words have temporal beginnings and endings that are not arbitrary; in addition, the serial order and timing of elements within the stimulus are intrinsic to its identity. Thus, one might hypothesize that the processes involved in spoken word and melody identification would bear similarities to each other and differences from those associated with visual object recognition.

The present experiments were designed to explore similarities between melody and spoken word identification. In particular, the experiments evaluated whether a central tenet of the cohort model of spoken word identification-that initial segments of a word are vital for identification-would be observed with melodic stimuli. Briefly, the cohort model claims that words are identified primarily via bottom-up processes. The early perceptual information activates a set of potential items that share the initial segments; for example, "bl" would activate "blue," "bland," "blade," and so on. …

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