The effect of vibrato on the recognition of masked vowels

Percept Psychophys. 1990 Nov;48(5):436-44. doi: 10.3758/bf03211587.


Five experiments on the identifiability of synthetic vowels masked by wideband sounds are reported. In each experiment, identification thresholds (signal/masker ratios, in decibels) were measured for two versions of four vowels: a vibrated version, in which FO varied sinusoidally around 100 Hz; and a steady version, in which F0 was fixed at 100 Hz. The first three experiments were performed on naive subjects. Experiment 1 showed that for maskers consisting of bursts of pink noise, vibrato had no effect on thresholds. In Experiment 2, where the maskers were periodic pulse trains with an F0 randomly varied between 120 and 140 Hz from trial to trial, vibrato slightly improved thresholds when the sound pressure level of the maskers was 40 dB, but had no effect for 65-dB maskers. In Experiment 3, vibrated rather than steady pulse trains were used as maskers; when these maskers were at 40 dB, the vibrated versions of the vowels were slightly less identifiable than their steady versions; but, as in Experiment 2, vibrato had no effect when the maskers were at 65 dB. Experiment 4 showed that the unmasking effect of vibrato found in Experiment 2 disappeared in subjects trained in the identification task. Finally, Experiment 5 indicated that in trained listeners, vibrato had no influence on identification performance even when the maskers and the vowels had synchronous onsets and offsets. We conclude that vibrating a vowel masked by a wideband sound can affect its identification threshold, but only for tonal maskers and in untrained listeners. This effect of vibrato should probably be considered as a Gestalt phenomenon originating from central auditory mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Humans
  • Loudness Perception
  • Perceptual Masking*
  • Phonetics*
  • Pitch Discrimination
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Speech Perception*