Acuity of mental representations of pitch


Petr Janata, Center for Mind and Brain, University of California, 267 Cousteau Pl., Davis, CA 95618.


Singing in one's mind or forming expectations about upcoming notes both require that mental images of one or more pitches will be generated. As with other musical abilities, the acuity with which such images are formed might be expected to vary across individuals and may depend on musical training. Results from several behavioral tasks involving intonation judgments indicate that multiple memory systems contribute to the formation of accurate mental images for pitch, and that the functionality of each is affected by musical training. Electrophysiological measures indicate that the ability to form accurate mental images is associated with greater engagement of auditory areas and associated error-detection circuitry when listeners imagine ascending scales and make intonation judgments about target notes. A view of auditory mental images is espoused in which unified mental image representations are distributed across multiple brain areas. Each brain area helps shape the acuity of the unified representation based on current behavioral demands and past experience.