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Preprints, Working Papers, ... Year : 2022

A unitary model of auditory frequency change perception

Kai Siedenburg
Jackson Graves
  • Function : Author


Changes in the frequency content of sounds over time are arguably the most basic form of information about the behavior of sound-emitting objects. In perceptual studies, such changes have mostly been investigated separately, as aspects of either pitch or timbre. Here, we propose a unitary account of “up” and “down” subjective judgments of frequency change, based on a model combining auditory correlates of acoustic cues in a sound-specific and listener-specific manner. To do so, we introduce a generalized version of so-called Shepard tones, allowing symmetric manipulations of spectral information on a fine scale, usually associated to pitch (spectral fine structure, SFS), and on a coarse scale, usually associated timbre (spectral envelope, SE). In a series of behavioral experiments, listeners reported “up” or “down” shifts across pairs of generalized Shepard tones that differed in SFS, in SE, or in both. We observed the classic properties of Shepard tones for either SFS or SE shifts: subjective judgements followed the smallest log-frequency change direction, with cases of ambiguity and circularity. Interestingly, when both SFS and SE changes were applied concurrently (synergistically or antagonistically), we observed a trade-off between cues. Listeners were encouraged to report when they perceived “both” directions of change concurrently, but this rarely happened, suggesting a unitary percept. A computational model could accurately fit the behavioral data by combining different cues reflecting frequency changes after auditory filtering. The model revealed that cue weighting depended on the nature of the sound. When presented with harmonic sounds, listeners put more weight on SFS-related cues, whereas inharmonic sounds led to more weight on SE-related cues. Moreover, these stimulus-based factors were modulated by inter-individual differences, revealing variability across listeners in the detailed recipe for “up” and “down” judgments. We argue that frequency changes are tracked perceptually via the adaptive combination of a diverse set of cues, in a manner that is in fact similar to the derivation of other basic auditory dimensions such as spatial location.
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Dates and versions

hal-03874834 , version 1 (28-11-2022)



Kai Siedenburg, Jackson Graves, Daniel Pressnitzer. A unitary model of auditory frequency change perception. 2022. ⟨hal-03874834⟩
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