Rhythmicity facilitates pitch discrimination: Differential roles of low and high frequency neural oscillations
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Previous studies indicate that temporal predictability can enhance timing and intensity perception, but it is not known whether it also enhances pitch perception, despite pitch being a fundamental perceptual attribute of sound. Here we investigate this in the context of rhythmic regularity, a form of predictable temporal structure common in sound streams, including music and speech. It is known that neural oscillations in low (delta: 1-3 Hz) and high (beta: 15-25 Hz) frequency bands entrain to rhythms in phase and power, respectively, but it is not clear why both low and high frequency bands entrain to external rhythms, and whether they and their coupling serve different perceptual functions. Participants discriminated near-threshold pitch deviations (targets) embedded in either rhythmic (regular/isochronous) or arrhythmic (irregular/non-isochronous) tone sequences. Psychophysically, we found superior pitch discrimination performance for target tones in rhythmic compared to arrhythmic sequences. Electroencephalography recordings from auditory cortex showed that delta phase, beta power modulation, and delta-beta coupling were all modulated by rhythmic regularity. Importantly, trial-by-trial neural-behavioural correlational analyses showed that, prior to a target, the depth of U-shaped beta power modulation predicted pitch discrimination sensitivity whereas cross-frequency coupling strength predicted reaction time. These novel findings suggest that delta phase might reflect rhythmic temporal expectation, beta power temporal attention, and delta-beta coupling auditory-motor communication. Together, low and high frequency auditory neural oscillations reflect different perceptual functions that work in concert for tracking rhythmic regularity and proactively facilitate pitch perception.