Enculturation Effects of Musical Training on Pitch Discrimination

Greta Grannan-RubensteinOberlin College
William Grannan-RubensteinOberlin College
Paul ThibodeauOberlin College


Research on the acquisition and use of communicative categories in domains such as language and music is largely divided between approaches suggesting innate cognitive constraints on domain-specific communicative forms, and approaches suggesting domain-general mechanisms through which specific communicative forms are learned. The present study investigates the effect of greater or lesser enculturation in the communicative system of Western tonal music on peoples’ ability to discriminate culturally familiar and culturally unfamiliar pitch categories. The results indicate that while prior musical training affects peoples’ overall approach to pitch discrimination, the advantage is dependent on the familiarity (in both pitch and timbre) of the aural stimulus, and is negligible under conditions of maximal musical unfamiliarity. Observed differences in pitch discrimination ability therefore appear to result from enculturation effects of exposure to Western music, not from a relationship between musical training and innate perceptual categories.


Enculturation Effects of Musical Training on Pitch Discrimination (195 KB)

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