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Patterns of individual differences in the perception of missing-fundamental tones

Ladd, D. R., Turnbull, R., Browne, C., Caldwell-Harris, C., Ganushchak, L. Y., Swoboda, K., Woodfield, V., & Dediu, D. (2013). Patterns of individual differences in the perception of missing-fundamental tones. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 39(5), 1386-1397. doi:10.1037/a0031261.
Recent experimental findings suggest stable individual differences in the perception of auditory stimuli lacking energy at the fundamental frequency (F0), here called missing fundamental (MF) tones. Specifically, some individuals readily identify the pitch of such tones with the missing F0 ("F0 listeners"), and some base their judgment on the frequency of the partials that make up the tones ("spectral listeners"). However, the diversity of goals and methods in recent research makes it difficult to draw clear conclusions about individual differences. The first purpose of this article is to discuss the influence of methodological choices on listeners' responses. The second goal is to report findings on individual differences in our own studies of the MF phenomenon. In several experiments, participants judged the direction of pitch change in stimuli composed of two MF tones, constructed so as to reveal whether the pitch percept was based on the MF or the partials. The reported difference between F0 listeners and spectral listeners was replicated, but other stable patterns of responses were also observed. Test-retest reliability is high. We conclude that there are genuine, stable individual differences underlying the diverse findings, but also that there are more than two general types of listeners, and that stimulus variables strongly affect some listeners' responses. This suggests that it is generally misleading to classify individuals as "F0 listeners" or "spectral listeners." It may be more accurate to speak of two modes of perception ("F0 listening" and "spectral listening"), both of which are available to many listeners. The individual differences lie in what conditions the choice between the two modes.

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