Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Why auditory pitch and spatial elevation get high together: Shape of human ear may have evolved to mirror acoustics in natural world

Date:
April 8, 2014
Source:
Universitaet Bielefeld
Summary:
Have you ever wondered why most natural languages invariably use the same spatial attributes -- high versus low -- to describe auditory pitch? Or why, throughout the history of musical notation, high notes have been represented high on the staff? According to neuroscientists, high pitched sounds feel 'high' because, in our daily lives, sounds coming from high elevations are indeed more likely to be higher in pitch.

Researchers from Bielefeld University have demonstrated the origin of the mapping between auditory pitch and spatial elevation. Their analysis suggests that the shape of the human ear might have evolved to mirror the acoustic properties of the natural environment.
Credit: Cesare & Ernst

Have you ever wondered why most natural languages invariably use the same spatial attributes -- high versus low -- to describe auditory pitch? Or why, throughout the history of musical notation, high notes have been represented high on the staff? According to a team of neuroscientists from Bielefeld University and the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, high pitched sounds feel 'high' because, in our daily lives, sounds coming from high elevations are indeed more likely to be higher in pitch. This study has just appeared in the science journal PNAS.

Dr. Cesare Parise and colleagues set out to investigate the origins of the mapping between sound frequency and spatial elevation by combining three separate lines of evidence. First of all, they recorded and analyzsed a large sample of sounds from the natural environment and found that high frequency sounds are more likely to originate from high positions in space. Next, they analyzed the filtering of the human outer ear and found that, due to the convoluted shape of the outer ear -- the pinna -- sounds coming from high positions in space are filtered in such a way that more energy remains for higher pitched sounds. Finally, they asked humans in a behavioural experiment to localize sounds with different frequency and found that high frequency sounds were systematically perceived as coming from higher positions in space.

The results from these three lines of evidence were highly convergent, suggesting that all such diverse phenomena as the acoustics of the human ear, the universal use of spatial terms for describing pitch, or the reason why high notes are represented higher in musical notation ultimately reflect the adaptation of human hearing to the statistics of natural auditory scenes. 'These results are especially fascinating, because they do not just explain the origin of the mapping between frequency and elevation,' says Parise, 'they also suggest that the very shape of the human ear might have evolved to mirror the acoustic properties of the natural environment. What is more, these findings are highly applicable and provide valuable guidelines for using pitch to develop more effective 3D audio technologies, such as sonification-based sensory substitution devices, sensory prostheses, and more immersive virtual auditory environments.'

The mapping between pitch and elevation has often been considered to be metaphorical, and cross-sensory correspondences have been theorized to be the basis for language development. The present findings demonstrate that, at least in the case of the mapping between pitch and elevation, such a metaphorical mapping is indeed embodied and based on the statistics of the environment, hence raising the intriguing hypothesis that language itself might have been influenced by a set of statistical mappings between naturally occurring sensory signals.

Besides the mapping between pitch and elevation, human perception, cognition, and action are laced with seemingly arbitrary correspondences, such as that yellow-reddish colors are associated with a warm temperature or that sour foods taste sharp. This study suggests that many of these seemingly arbitrary mappings might in fact reflect statistical regularities to be found in the natural environment.

The Cognitive Neuroscience Group of the Biological Faculty is affiliated to the Center of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) at Bielefeld University. The group is focusing on human multisensory perception, sensorimortor integration, perceptual learning, and human-machine interaction. The researchers combine human psychophysical experimentation with computational modeling. The group currently consists of 15 members from a variety of different backgrounds: biology, cognitive science, psychology, medicine, physics, and engineering.

The Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics uses experimental, theoretical, and methodological approaches to investigate cognitive processes. It employs approximately 300 employees from over 40 countries and is located at the Max Planck Campus in Tübingen. The Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics is one of 80 institutes and research facilities belonging to the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science.

The Bernstein Center Tübingen is part of the National Bernstein Network for Computation Neuroscience. With this initiative, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has been supporting the new research field of computation neuroscience with more than 170 million Euros since 2004.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Universitaet Bielefeld. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. C. V. Parise, K. Knorre, M. O. Ernst. Natural auditory scene statistics shapes human spatial hearing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1322705111

Cite This Page:

Universitaet Bielefeld. "Why auditory pitch and spatial elevation get high together: Shape of human ear may have evolved to mirror acoustics in natural world." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140408111431.htm>.
Universitaet Bielefeld. (2014, April 8). Why auditory pitch and spatial elevation get high together: Shape of human ear may have evolved to mirror acoustics in natural world. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140408111431.htm
Universitaet Bielefeld. "Why auditory pitch and spatial elevation get high together: Shape of human ear may have evolved to mirror acoustics in natural world." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140408111431.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

It's Not Just Facebook: OKCupid Experiments With Users Too

Newsy (July 29, 2014) — If you've been looking for love online, there's a chance somebody has been looking at how you're looking. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

Newsy (July 29, 2014) — Researchers have found certain facial features can make us seem more attractive or trustworthy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) — A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

Newsy (July 25, 2014) — An online quiz from a required course at Ohio State is making waves for suggesting atheists are inherently smarter than Christians. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins