Postersession 3
Poster #: 87
Topic: Music
Friday, Sep 11, 2015
1st floor

Pre-attentive discrimination of instrumental timbre in non-musicians as mirrored by the mismatch negativity

Stefan Berti1, Corinna Christmann2, & Thomas Lachmann3

1Institute for Psychology, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Mainz, Germany
2Department of Computer Science, University of Kaiserslautern, Kaiserslautern, Germany
3Center for Cognitive Sciences, University of Kaiserslautern, Kaiserslautern, Germany

There is growing evidence for music-specific networks within the human brain. In this context, most studies have focused on the role of pitch, while neglecting the role of timbre. One problem when applying complex sounds to the logic of the standard oddball paradigm is that it is hard to evaluate whether an observed effect of a particular ‘higher order’ feature (like timbre) of the stimulus is due to this feature or solely due to the complexity of the stimulus in general. In order to test how instrumental timbre is processed on the level of pre-attentive sensory processing, we applied complex instrumental sounds (i.e., saxophone or clarinet) and spectrally rotated versions of these sounds in a passive oddball paradigm. The spectrally rotated counterpart of the instrumental sound preserves the complexity as well as the spectral information of the sound but lacks timbre. Natural and rotated sounds were applied in different conditions. In each condition, clarinet and saxophone sounds served either as standards or as deviants in different blocks. Fourteen young adults without special musical training participated in the study. Both stimulus types (natural and rotated sounds) elicited a MMN with comparable amplitudes but the latency was shorter for the natural compared to the spectrally rotated sounds. These results indicate that timbre is more efficiently processed by the human brain than equally complex sounds without timbre. Moreover, our findings support the idea of music-specific networks within the human brain.