The perceptual reality of tone chroma in early infancy

J Acoust Soc Am. 1984 Jul;76(1):57-66. doi: 10.1121/1.391006.


It has often been advanced that pitch is a two-dimensional perceptual attribute, its two dimensions being: (1) tone height, a perceptual quality monotonically related to frequency; and (2) tone chroma, a quality shared by tones forming an octave interval. However, given that many musically uneducated adults do not seem to perceive tone chroma, this model is controversial. We investigated the sensitivity of three-month-old infants to tone chroma by means of a behavioral habituation-dishabituation procedure. Infants were presented with two successive melodic sequences of pure tones, the second sequence being a distorted version of the first one. The distortion consisted in shifting the frequency of some of the original tones, through a seventh or a ninth for some infants, through an octave for others. In the former case, infants displayed significant novelty reactions. In the latter case, significant novelty reactions were observed when the two sequences differed in melodic contour, but not when they had the same contour. These results suggest that young infants are sensitive to both tone height and tone chroma, and thus that tone chroma perception does not necessitate some form of musical experience.

MeSH terms

  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Music*
  • Pitch Discrimination*
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Psychology, Child*