Can pitch be measured on a ration scale?

  • Florian Kattner
  • Wolfgang Ellermeier

Abstract

Stevens’ direct scaling methods have been widely used in basic and ap- plied psychophysical research. They rest on the assumption that ob- servers are capable of processing ratios on a subjective intensity scale. Axioms fundamental to this assumption have only recently been formu- lated, and empirically tested for a limited number of sensory continua, most notably loudness. The present study attempts to extend this line of research to the perception of pitch. N=13 participants were asked to adjust pitch intervals defined by pure tones in a frequency range between 264 and 699 Hz to specific ratios (e.g., 1/2 or 2/3) of a standard inter- val. Whereas most participants’ adjustments were in accordance with the axiom of monotonicity, there were a few significant violations of commutativity and multiplicativity, particularly if the standard interval exceeded an octave. In contrast to what has been found for loudness, however, multiplicativity still held for most observers. Systematic ef- fects of stimulus range and musical training appear to distinguish pitch scaling from other quantifiable sensations.

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