Expectancy Effects in Memory for Melodies

By Schmuckler, Mark A | Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, December 1997 | Go to article overview

Expectancy Effects in Memory for Melodies


Schmuckler, Mark A, Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology


Abstract Two experiments explored the relation between melodic expectancy and melodic memory. In Experiment 1, listeners rated the degree to which different endings confirmed their expectations for a set of melodies. After providing these expectancy ratings, listeners received a recognition memory test in which they discriminated previously heard melodies from new melodies. Recognition memory in this task positively correlated with perceived expectancy, and was related to the estimated tonal coherence of these melodies. Experiment 2 extended these results, demonstrating better recognition memory for high expectancy melodies, relative to medium and low expectancy melodies. This experiment also observed asymmetrical memory confusions as a function of perceived expectancy. These findings fit with a model of musical memory in which schematically central events are better remembered than schematically peripheral events.

The generation of expectations has been recognized as a central factor in listeners' perceptions of music. Simply defined, "expectation" refers to the anticipation of upcoming information based on past and current information. The concept of expectancy has traditionally received, and continues to receive, a great deal of attention from both a music-theoretic (e.g., Meyer, 1956,1965; Narmour, 1989, 1990,1992) and psychological viewpoint (e.g., Bharucha, 1987, 1994; Carlsen, 1981, 1982; Carlsen, Divenyi, & Taylor, 1970; Cuddy & Lunney, 1995; Dowling, 1994; Jones, 1976, 1981, 1982, 1990; Krumhansl, 1995; Schellenberg, 1996,1997; Schmuckler, 1989,1990; Schmuckler & Boltz, 1994; Unyk & Carlsen, 1987).

Given this interest, it is not surprising that expectation has been found to play a critical role in many aspects of musical processing. One such area involves listeners' judgments of, and responses to, musical passages. For example, Schmuckler (1989) had listeners provide goodness-of-fit ratings for a set of continuations of melodic, harmonic, and combined melodic-harmonic passages. These studies uncovered systematic variation in listeners' judgments of these continuations, with some endings receiving high expectancy ratings, whereas other endings received relatively low expectancy ratings. Additionally, these studies demonstrated that expectancies were predictable from various music-theoretic and perceptual/cognitive principles of pattern organization. Similar results have been observed by Cuddy and Lunney (1995), Krumhansl (1995), and Schellenberg (1996), in their tests of Narmour's (1990,1992) implication-realization model. Together, these findings suggest that judgments of a musical event vary with the perceived expectancy of that passage, with expectations quantifiable on the basis of a range of factors.

A second area in which expectancies play a role in musical perception is the processing and encoding of musical information. For example, Bharucha and colleagues (Bharucha & Stoeckig, 1986, 1987; Tekman & Bharucha, 1992) demonstrated priming effects in musical contexts, in which a target event (a musical chord) is responded to more quickly and accurately following a harmonically (i.e., semantically) related prime chord, relative to when a harmonically unrelated prime preceded the target. Similarly, Bigand and Pineau (1997) have recently demonstrated influences of global (e.g., multievent) musical contexts on both judgments and processing speed for harmonic events. These findings are well-captured by a connectionist model of the psychological representation of tonal-harmonic information (Bharucha, 1987, with this model quantifying expectancy formation via spreading activation among musical units. In the same vein, Schmuckler and Boltz (1994), using complex, realistic passages, examined both listeners' judgments of musical events and the speed of processing of these events, and found that expectancy ratings and processing speed were influenced not only by patterns of harmonic relatedness, as expressed in Bharucha's model, but also by the rhythmic structure of the musical information; this last factor has not been explicitly represented in connectionist architectures of harmonic relatedness. …

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