Because musicians are trained to discern sounds within complex acoustic scenes, such as an orchestra playing, it has been hypothesized that musicianship improves general auditory scene analysis abilities. Here, we compared musicians and non-musicians in a behavioural paradigm using ambiguous stimuli, combining performance, reaction times and confidence measures. We used ‘Shepard tones’, for which listeners may report either an upward or a downward pitch shift for the same ambiguous tone pair. Musicians and non-musicians performed similarly on the pitch-shift direction task. In particular, both groups were at chance for the ambiguous case. However, groups differed in their reaction times and judgements of confidence. Musicians responded to the ambiguous case with long reaction times and low confidence, whereas non-musicians responded with fast reaction times and maximal confidence. In a subsequent experiment, non-musicians displayed reduced confidence for the ambiguous case when pure-tone components of the Shepard complex were made easier to discern. The results suggest an effect of musical training on scene analysis: we speculate that musicians were more likely to discern components within complex auditory scenes, perhaps because of enhanced attentional resolution, and thus discovered the ambiguity. For untrained listeners, stimulus ambiguity was not available to perceptual awareness.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Auditory and visual scene analysis’.
- Accepted September 30, 2016.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.