Perceptual fusion of musical notes by native Amazonians suggests universal representations of musical intervals

Perceptual fusion of musical notes by native Amazonians suggests universal representations of musical intervals

Presenter Name:Malinda McPherson

School/Affiliation:Harvard University, MIT

Co-Authors:Sophia E. Dolan, Alex Durango, Tomas Ossandon, Joaquín Valdés, Eduardo A. Undurraga, Nori Jacoby, Ricardo A. Godoy & Josh H. McDermott

Abstract:Music perception is plausibly constrained by universal perceptual mechanisms adapted to natural sounds. Such constraints could arise from our dependence on harmonic frequency spectra for segregating concurrent sounds, but evidence has been circumstantial. We measured the extent to which concurrent musical notes are misperceived as a single sound, testing Westerners as well as native Amazonians with limited exposure to Western music. Both groups were more likely to mistake note combinations related by simple integer ratios as single sounds (‘fusion’). Thus, even with little exposure to Western harmony, acoustic constraints on sound segregation appear to induce perceptual structure on note combinations. However, fusion did not predict aesthetic judgments of intervals in Westerners, or in Amazonians, who were indifferent to consonance/dissonance. The results suggest universal perceptual mechanisms that could help explain cross-cultural regularities in musical systems, but indicate that these mechanisms interact with culture-specific influences to produce musical phenomena such as consonance.

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