Perceptual distortions in pitch and time reveal active prediction and support for an auditory pitch-motion hypothesis

PLoS One. 2013 Aug 6;8(8):e70646. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070646. Print 2013.


A number of accounts of human auditory perception assume that listeners use prior stimulus context to generate predictions about future stimulation. Here, we tested an auditory pitch-motion hypothesis that was developed from this perspective. Listeners judged either the time change (i.e., duration) or pitch change of a comparison frequency glide relative to a standard (referent) glide. Under a constant-velocity assumption, listeners were hypothesized to use the pitch velocity (Δf/Δt) of the standard glide to generate predictions about the pitch velocity of the comparison glide, leading to perceptual distortions along the to-be-judged dimension when the velocities of the two glides differed. These predictions were borne out in the pattern of relative points of subjective equality by a significant three-way interaction between the velocities of the two glides and task. In general, listeners' judgments along the task-relevant dimension (pitch or time) were affected by expectations generated by the constant-velocity standard, but in an opposite manner for the two stimulus dimensions. When the comparison glide velocity was faster than the standard, listeners overestimated time change, but underestimated pitch change, whereas when the comparison glide velocity was slower than the standard, listeners underestimated time change, but overestimated pitch change. Perceptual distortions were least evident when the velocities of the standard and comparison glides were matched. Fits of an imputed velocity model further revealed increasingly larger distortions at faster velocities. The present findings provide support for the auditory pitch-motion hypothesis and add to a larger body of work revealing a role for active prediction in human auditory perception.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Perceptual Distortion / physiology*
  • Pitch Perception / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult

Grant support

A portion of this research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (BCS 1010592) to JDM and support from the Bowling Green State University Graduate College to MJH. No additional external funding received for this study. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.