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Unformatted text preview: Behavioral/Systems/Cognitive The Statistical Structure of Human Speech Sounds Predicts Musical Universals David A. Schwartz, Catherine Q. Howe, and Dale Purves Department of Neurobiology and Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27710 The similarity of musical scales and consonance judgments across human populations has no generally accepted explanation. Here we present evidence that these aspects of auditory perception arise from the statistical structure of naturally occurring periodic sound stimuli. An analysis of speech sounds, the principal source of periodic sound stimuli in the human acoustical environment, shows that the probability distribution of amplitudefrequency combinations in human utterances predicts both the structure of the chromatic scale and consonance ordering. These observations suggest that what we hear is determined by the statistical relationship between acoustical stimuli and their naturally occurring sources, rather than by the physical parameters of the stimulus per se. Key words: audition; auditory system; perception; music; scales; consonance; tones; probability Introduction All human listeners perceive tones in the presence of regularly repeating patterns of sound pressure fluctuation over a wide range of frequencies. This quality of audition forms the basis of tonal music, a behavioral product characteristic of most if not all human populations. The widely shared features of tonal music that are deemed to be musical universals include: (1) a division of the continuous dimension of pitch into iterated sets of 12 intervals that define the chromatic scale (Nettl, 1956; Deutsch, 1973; Kallman and Massaro, 1979; Krumhansl and Shepard, 1979); (2) the preferential use in musical composition and per- formance of particular subsets of these 12 intervals [e.g., the in- tervals of the diatonic or (anhemitonic) pentatonic scales] (Budge, 1943; Youngblood, 1958; Knopoff and Hutchinson, 1983); and (3) the similar consonance ordering of chromatic scale tone combinations reported by most listeners (Malmberg, 1918; Krumhansl, 1990). Although the response properties of some auditory neurons to musical tone combinations (Tramo et al., 2001) and other complex time-varying signals (Escabi and Schreiner, 2002) are now known, as are some neuroanatomical correlates of music perception (Peretz et al., 2001; Janata et al., 2002), these perceptual phenomena have no generally accepted explanation in either physiological or psychological terms. Thus, the basis for tonal music, one of the most fascinating and widely appreciated aspects of human audition, remains obscure. Here we explore a conceptual framework for understanding musical universals suggested by recent work on human vision (for review, see Knill and Richards, 1996; Purves et al., 2001; Rao et al., 2002; Purves and Lotto, 2003). A fundamental challenge in understanding what we see is that the physical source of a retinal...
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- Spring '08
- Cognitive Psychology