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Octave Illusion Review

Dear List,

I would like to announce an in-press article on the octave illusion, which will appear in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (see abstract below).

The article is a critical review of the influential suppression explanation of the phenomenon proposed by Deutsch and Roll (1976; JEP:HPP), and includes a discussion of the illusion in relation to pitch perception, sound localization, ear dominance, cortical electrophysiology, and mathematical modelling of the illusion according to pattern-matching theories of pitch perception.

PB&R has a pretty long lag, so I'd be happy to email pre-prints of the article upon request, including supplementary methodological information.

best wishes,


The octave illusion is elicited by a sequence of tones presented to each ear that continuously alternate in frequency by one octave, but with high and low frequencies always in different ears. The percept for most listeners is a high pitch in one ear alternating with a low pitch in the other ear. The influential 'suppression model' of the illusion proposed by Deutsch and Roll (1976) carries three postulates: first, that listeners perceive only the pitch of the tones presented to their dominant ear; second, that this pitch is heard in whichever ear received the higher frequency tone; and third, that this apparent dissociation between "what" and "where" mechanisms arises from sequential interactions between the tones. In the present article, we reappraise evidence for the suppression model and demonstrate (a) the incompatibility of the theory with existing literature on pitch perception, sound localization and ear dominance; and (b) methodological limitations in studies that have claimed to provide support for the suppression model. We conclude by proposing an alternative theory of the octave illusion that is based on established principles of fusion, rather than suppression, between ears.

Christopher D. Chambers
Post-doctoral Scientist
Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory
Department of Psychology
University of Melbourne
Victoria 3010

Office Tel.  +61 3 8344 3684
Lab Tel. +61 3 8344 5158
Fax. +61 3 9347 6618

email: c.chambers@psych.unimelb.edu.au