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Keywords:

  • Pitch processing;
  • Timbre;
  • Perceived resonator size;
  • Development;
  • Neonates;
  • Event-related brain potentials (ERP);
  • mismatch negativity (MMN)

Abstract

The ability to separate pitch from other spectral sound features, such as timbre, is an important prerequisite of veridical auditory perception underlying speech acquisition and music cognition. The current study investigated whether or not newborn infants generalize pitch across different timbres. Perceived resonator size is an aspect of timbre that informs the listener about the size of the sound source, a cue that may be important already at birth. Therefore, detection of infrequent pitch changes was tested by recording event-related brain potentials in healthy newborn infants to frequent standard and infrequent pitch-deviant sounds while the perceived resonator size of all sounds was randomly varied. The elicitation of an early negative and a later positive discriminative response by deviant sounds demonstrated that the neonate auditory system represents pitch separately from timbre, thus showing advanced pitch processing capabilities.