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Pitch-induced illusory tempo

Pitch-induced illusory tempo

Presenter Name:Jesse Pazdera

School/Affiliation:McMaster University

Co-Authors:Laurel Trainor


Tempo is one of the most influential cues to emotion in speech and music. At the same time, the perception of tempo can be influenced by other acoustic and contextual features of the stimulus. For example, people tend to perceive music as faster when it is presented in a higher register than when it is presented in a lower register. It has therefore been suggested that pitch height influences perceived tempo. However, previous studies have typically compared only one lower register with one higher register. Given that factors such as cochlear sensitivity and pitch saliency are also known to vary between octaves, we cannot conclude from the existing literature that pitch height drives this illusory tempo effect. To distinguish pitch height (which changes linearly across octaves) from factors that vary nonlinearly across octaves, it is necessary to compare perceived tempo across several levels of pitch spanning the broader range of human hearing. To address this issue, we asked participants in two experiments to compare the tempo of various repeating piano tones to a metronomic standard. The tones spanned six octaves and a wide range of interonset intervals. Results showed that perceived tempo changed nonlinearly across octaves, with perceived tempo increasing with pitch between A2 and A4, peaking between A4 and A6, and showing a possible downturn above A6. These findings challenge the established notion that higher = faster and raise questions as to whether illusory tempo effects are driven by pitch height alone.

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