Interaction between pitch and timbre perception in normal-hearing listeners and cochlear implant users


Despite their mutually exclusive definitions, pitch and timbre perception interact with each other in normal-hearing (NH) listeners. Cochlear implant (CI) users have worse than normal pitch and timbre perception. However, the pitch-timbre interaction with CIs is not well understood. This study tested the interaction between pitch and sharpness (an aspect of timbre) perception related to the fundamental frequency (F0) and spectral slope of harmonic complex tones, respectively, in both NH listeners and CI users. In experiment 1, the F0 (and spectral slope) difference limens (DLs) were measured with a fixed spectral slope (and F0) and 20-dB amplitude roving. Then, the F0 and spectral slope were varied congruently or incongruently by the same multiple of individual DLs to assess the pitch and sharpness ranking sensitivity. Both NH and CI subjects had significantly higher pitch and sharpness ranking sensitivity with congruent than with incongruent F0 and spectral slope variations, and showed a similar symmetric interaction between pitch and timbre perception. In experiment 2, CI users’ melodic contour identification (MCI) was tested in three spectral slope (no, congruent, and incongruent spectral slope variations by the same multiple of individual DLs as the F0 variations) and two amplitude conditions (0- and 20-dB amplitude roving). When there was no amplitude roving, the MCI scores were significantly higher with congruent than with no, and in turn than with incongruent spectral slope variations. The 20-dB amplitude roving significantly reduced the overall MCI scores and the effect of spectral slope variations. These results reflected a confusion between higher (or lower) pitch and sharper (or duller) timbre and offered important implications for understanding and enhancing pitch and timbre perception with CIs.

Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, 20(1), 57-72