'Nuff said: Humans get the gist of complex sounds

June 13, 2013

New research by neuroscientists at UC Berkeley, suggests that the human brain is not detail-oriented, but opts for the big picture when it comes to hearing.

Researchers found that when faced with many different sounds, such as notes in a violin melody, the brain doesn't bother processing every individual pitch, but instead quickly summarizes them to get an overall gist of what is being heard.

The study, published today (Wednesday, June 12) in the journal Psychological Science, could potentially improve the ability of to help people tune into one conversation when multiple people are talking in the background, something people with normal hearing do effortlessly. Also, if programs could emulate the information compression that takes place in the , they could represent a speaker's words with less processing power and memory.

In the study, participants could accurately judge the average pitch of a brief sequence of tones. Surprisingly, however, they had difficulty recalling information about individual tones within the sequence, such as when in the sequence they had occurred.

"This research suggests that the brain automatically transforms a set of sounds into a more concise summary statistic - in this case, the average pitch," said study lead author Elise Piazza, a UC Berkeley Ph.D. student in the Vision Science program. "This transformation is a more efficient strategy for representing information about complex auditory sequences than remembering the pitch of each individual component of those sequences."

Explore further: Perfect pitch may not be absolute after all

Related Stories

Perfect pitch may not be absolute after all

June 11, 2013
People who think they have perfect pitch may not be as in tune as they think, according to a new University of Chicago study in which people failed to notice a gradual change in pitch while listening to music.

Speaking a tonal language (such as Cantonese) primes the brain for musical training

April 2, 2013
Non-musicians who speak tonal languages may have a better ear for learning musical notes, according to Canadian researchers.

Musical memory deficits start in auditory cortex

May 1, 2013
Congenital amusia is a disorder characterized by impaired musical skills, which can extend to an inability to recognize very familiar tunes. The neural bases of this deficit are now being deciphered. According to a study ...

Is there a central brain area for hearing melodies and speech cues? Still an open question

November 29, 2011
Previous studies have suggested a particular hotspot in the brain might be responsible for perceiving pitch, but auditory neuroscientists are still debating whether this "pitch center" actually exists. A review article discusses ...

Recommended for you

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Using money to buy time linked to increased happiness

July 24, 2017
New research is challenging the age-old adage that money can't buy happiness.

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Psychologists say our 'attachment style' applies to social networks like Facebook

July 24, 2017
A new investigation appearing this week in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests a strong association between a person's attachment style—how avoidant or anxious people are in their close relationships—and ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

beleg
not rated yet Jul 20, 2013
The 'average pitch' is directly dependent on the sounds preceding the determination to discriminate the pitch you are hearing.

You are making progress in your understanding. You get credit for that.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.