Hear it playing low and slow: how pitch level differentially influences time perception

Acta Psychol (Amst). 2014 Jun;149:169-77. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2014.03.010. Epub 2014 Apr 17.


Variations in both pitch and time are important in conveying meaning through speech and music, however, research is scant on perceptual interactions between these two domains. Using an ordinal comparison procedure, we explored how different pitch levels of flanker tones influenced the perceived duration of empty interstimulus intervals (ISIs). Participants heard monotonic, isochronous tone sequences (ISIs of 300, 600, or 1200 ms) composed of either one or five standard ISIs flanked by 500 Hz tones, followed by a final interval (FI) flanked by tones of either the same (500 Hz), higher (625 Hz), or lower (400 Hz) pitch. The FI varied in duration around the standard ISI duration. Participants were asked to determine if the FI was longer or shorter in duration than the preceding intervals. We found that an increase in FI flanker tone pitch level led to the underestimation of FI durations while a decrease in FI flanker tone pitch led to the overestimation of FI durations. The magnitude of these pitch-level effects decreased as the duration of the standard interval was increased, suggesting that the effect was driven by differences in mode-switch latencies to start/stop timing. Temporal context (One vs. Five Standard ISIs) did not have a consistent effect on performance. We propose that the interaction between pitch and time may have important consequences in understanding the ways in which meaning and emotion are communicated.

Keywords: Attention; Clock speed; Emotion; Interval-based timing; Mode control; Timing and time perception.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Music
  • Pitch Perception / physiology*
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult