Processing simultaneous auditory objects: Infants’ ability to detect mistuning in harmonic complexes
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The ability to separate simultaneous auditory objects is crucial to infant auditory development. Music in particular relies on the ability to separate musical notes, chords, and melodic lines. Little research addresses how infants process simultaneous sounds. The present study used a conditioned head-turn procedure to examine whether 6-month-old infants are able to discriminate a complex tone (240 Hz, 500 ms, six harmonics in random phase with a 6 dB roll-off per octave) from a version with the third harmonic mistuned. Adults perceive such stimuli as containing two auditory objects, one with the pitch of the mistuned harmonic and the other with pitch corresponding to the fundamental of the complex tone. Adult thresholds were between 1% and 2% mistuning. Infants performed above chance levels for 8%, 6%, and 4% mistunings, with no significant difference between conditions. However, performance was not significantly different from chance for 2% mistuning and significantly worse for 2% compared to all larger mistunings. These results indicate that 6-month-old infants are sensitive to violations of harmonic structure and suggest that they are able to separate two simultaneously sounding objects.
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