The effect of musical training on auditory grouping

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Sarah Sauve
Lauren Stewart
Marcus Pearce


Background. Auditory streaming is a process highly relevant to analyzing everyday sound environments, particularly with respect to timbre. The phenomenon of auditory streaming has a history of being studied in terms of Gestalt principles (Bregman, 1990), of pitch (van Noorden, 1975), of tempo (Bregman & Campbell, 1971; van Noorden, 1975), of timbre (Bregman & Pinker, 1978; Marozeau et al., 2013), and of attention (Botte et al., 1997; Carlyon & Cusack, 2001). All of these parameters influence the extent of auditory streaming in various ways. An increase in performance in many types of auditory tasks is seen in musicians, including streaming (Zendel & Alain, 2008), presumably a result of training and brain plasticity.

Aims. This experiment seeks to corroborate this observed effect of musical training, and further define the effects of training on specific instrument. Another goal of this experiment is to clearly demonstrate the influence of attention on streaming.

Method. In testing both non-musicians and musicians trained on specific instruments in a simple ABA-paradigm where timbre is manipulated (similar timbres presumably making streaming more difficult (Singh & Bregman, 1978; Hartmann & Johnson, 1991; Iverson et al., 1995)), we can find and analyze the fission and temporal coherence boundaries between groups. Participants will be exposed to trials via Max/MSP, and responses will be collected in the same patch. A manipulation of instructions to participants will evaluate the influence of attention on streaming: they will be instructed to hold on to either the galloping rhythm (integration) or the 2:1 rhythm (streaming).

Results. This experiment corroborates the previously observed effect of musical training on perception, demonstrated by different threshold profiles between musicians and non-musicians. It also clearly demonstrates an influence of attention on streaming while suggesting further effects of training on specific instruments. The manipulation of attention formed two boundaries, identified as the fission boundary and the temporal coherence boundary. These boundaries were significantly different between musicians and non-musicians and additionally affected by specific timbres.

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