Do metrical accents create illusory phenomenal accents?

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2010 Jul;72(5):1390-403. doi: 10.3758/APP.72.5.1390.


In music that is perceived as metrically structured, events coinciding with the main beat are called metrically accented. Are these accents purely cognitive, or do they perhaps represent illusory increases in perceived loudness or duration, caused by heightened attention to main beats? In four separate tasks, musicians tried to detect a small actual increase or decrease in the loudness or duration of a single note in melodies comprising 12 notes. Musical notation prescribed a meter (6/8) implying a main beat coinciding with every third note. Effects of metrical accentuation on detection performance were found in all four tasks. However, they reflected primarily an increase in sensitivity to physical changes in main beat positions, likely to be due to enhanced attention. There was no evidence of biases indicating illusory phenomenal accents in those positions. By contrast, and independent of metrical structure, pitch accents due to pitch contour pivots were often mistaken for increases in loudness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Auditory Perception*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illusions*
  • Loudness Perception*
  • Male
  • Music*
  • Pitch Discrimination
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Time Perception*
  • Young Adult