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Pitch discrimination learning: specificity for pitch and harmonic resolvability, and electrophysiological correlates

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date08/2011
JournalJournal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
Journal number4
Number of pages15
Original languageEnglish


Multiple-hour training on a pitch discrimination task dramatically decreases the threshold for detecting a pitch difference between two harmonic complexes. Here, we investigated the specificity of this perceptual learning with respect to the pitch and the resolvability of the trained harmonic complex, as well as its cortical electrophysiological correlates. We trained 24 participants for 12 h on a pitch discrimination task using one of four different harmonic complexes. The complexes differed in pitch and/or spectral resolvability of their components by the cochlea, but were filtered into the same spectral region. Cortical-evoked potentials and a behavioral measure of pitch discrimination were assessed before and after training for all the four complexes. The change in these measures was compared to that of two control groups: one trained on a level discrimination task and one without any training. The behavioral results showed that learning was partly specific to both pitch and resolvability. Training with a resolved-harmonic complex improved pitch discrimination for resolved complexes more than training with an unresolved complex. However, we did not find evidence that training with an unresolved complex leads to specific learning for unresolved complexes. Training affected the P2 component of the cortical-evoked potentials, as well as a later component (250-400 ms). No significant changes were found on the mismatch negativity (MMN) component, although a separate experiment showed that this measure was sensitive to pitch changes equivalent to the pitch discriminability changes induced by training. This result suggests that pitch discrimination training affects processes not measured by the MMN, for example, processes higher in level or parallel to those involved in MMN generation.