The human auditory system has a remarkable ability to “hear out” a wanted sound (target) in the background of unwanted sounds. One important property of sound which helps us hear-out the target is inharmonicity. When a single harmonic component of a harmonic complex is slightly mistuned, that component is heard to separate from the rest. At high harmonic numbers, where components are unresolved, the harmonic segregation effect is thought to result from detection of modulation of the time envelope (roughness cue) resulting from the mistuning. Neurophysiological research provides evidence that such envelope modulations are represented early in the auditory system, at the level of the auditory nerve. When the mistuned harmonic is a low harmonic, where components are resolved, the harmonic segregation is attributed to more centrally-located auditory processes, leading harmonic components to form a perceptual group heard separately from the mistuned component. Here we consider an alternative explanation that attributes the harmonic segregation to detection of modulation when both high and low harmonic numbers are mistuned. Specifically, we evaluate the possibility that distortion products in the cochlea generated by the mistuned component introduce detectable beating patterns for both high and low harmonic numbers. Distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs) were measured using 3, 7, or 12-tone harmonic complexes with a fundamental frequency (F0) of 200 or 400 Hz. One of two harmonic components was mistuned at each F0: one when harmonics are expected to be resulted and the other from unresolved harmonics. Many non-harmonic DPOAEs are present whenever a harmonic component is mistuned. These non-harmonic DPOAEs are often separated by the amount of the mistuning (ΔF). This small frequency difference will generate a slow beating pattern at ΔF, because this beating is only present when a harmonic component is mistuned, it could provide a cue for behavioral detection of harmonic complex mistuning and may also be associated with the modulation of auditory nerve responses.
Possible role of cochlear nonlinearity in the detection of mistuning of a harmonic component in a harmonic complex
Christophe Stoelinga, Inseok Heo, Glenis Long, Jungmee Lee, Robert Lutfi, An-Chieh Chang; Possible role of cochlear nonlinearity in the detection of mistuning of a harmonic component in a harmonic complex. AIP Conf. Proc. 31 December 2015; 1703 (1): 090022. https://doi.org/10.1063/1.4939420
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