Macaque monkeys discriminate pitch relationships

Cognition. 2004 Apr;91(3):259-72. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2003.09.005.


This study demonstrates that non-human primates can categorize the direction of the pitch change of tones in a sequence. Two Macaca fascicularis were trained in a positive-reinforcement behavioral paradigm in which they listened to sequences of a variable number of different acoustic items. The training of discriminating pitch direction was divided into three phases with increasing task complexity. In the first two phases, subjects learned to employ a same/different rule. In phase 1, they discriminated acoustic items of different sound quality. Subjects had to respond when there was a change from repeating noise bursts to repeating click trains or vice versa. In phase II, acoustic items differed along one physical dimension only. Subjects had to respond to a change of the frequency of a repeating series of pure tones. In phase III, sequences consisted of three series of repeating tones of different frequency. Subjects were required to respond when the frequency of the tones changed in a downward direction and to refrain from responding when the frequency remained constant or increased. After several ten thousand trials, subjects categorized pitch direction well above chance level. The discrimination was performed over a 4.5-octave range of frequencies and was largely independent of the temporal and ordinal position of the downward pitch direction within the sequence. These results demonstrate that monkeys can recognize pitch relationships and thus that monkeys have the concept of ordinal relations between acoustic items.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Macaca / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Music
  • Pitch Discrimination*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology