at least for echolocating bats (Megaderma lyra) the frequency discrimination thresholds for relative and absolute pitch have been tested (Sedlmeier, H. (1992) Tonhöhenwahrnehmung beim falschen Vampir Megaderma lyra; University of Munich, dept. of Zoology, Germany; Doctoral thesis; unfortunately in German).
The animals were trained to an ultrasonic reference frequency (23 kHz) and learned in a 2-AFC-paradigm to categorize pure tones of varying frequencies to be higher or lower than this reference. After the training period, the reference was omitted and the animals classified the comparison tones only based on the memorized reference. Their performance was remarkable:
Depending on the animals, the absolute pitch discrimination threshold was between 0.4 and 0.8 percent. This is slightly worse than human successive pitch discrimination thresholds (about 0.2 – 0.6 percent) in the best hearing range under relative pitch conditions. The experiment lasted for about half a year and during that period the animals fully retained this high discrimination performance.
Could humans with AP achieve such fine discrimination thresholds?
Verzonden: 29 apr 04 9:09
Onderwerp: absolute pitch
If absolute pitch were a phenomenon exclusively due to learned verbal categories, how would one explain the finding that several investigated animal species have absolute pitch?
Hulse, S. H. & Cynx, J. Relative pitch perception is constrained by absolute pitch in songbirds (Mimus, Molothrus, and Sturnus). J Comp Psychol 99, 176-196 (1985).
(b) monkeys and rats
D'Amato, M. R. A search for tonal pattern perception in cebus monkeys: Why monkeys can’t hum a tune. Music Perception 4, 453-480 (1988).
(c) echolocating bats
Schmidt, S., Preisler, A. & Sedlmeier, H. in Advances in Hear Res (eds. Manley, G. A., Klump, G., Köppl, C., Fastl, H. & Oeckinghaus, H.) 374-382 (World Scientific Publishers, Singapore, 1994).
Preisler, A. & Schmidt, S. in 23rd Göttingen Neurobiology Conference (eds. Elsner, N. & Menzel, R.) 309 (Georg Thieme Verlag, Stuttgart, 1995).
The findings by Saffran appear to be very revealing in this respect, showing that young infants at the age of 8 months, unlike adults, primarily rely on absolute pitch cues.
Saffran, J. R. & Griepentrog, G. J. Absolute pitch in infant auditory learning: evidence for developmental reorganization. Dev Psychol 37, 74-85 (2001).
Saffran, J. R. Musical Learning and Language Development. Ann NY Acad Sci 999, 397-401 (2003).
In summary, these results suggest that absolute pitch is a primary perceptual mode that is heavily superseded by relative pitch (probably in the course of language acquisition). Early musical training or learning a tonal language like Thai or Japanese may help to prevent this edging out-process, with the consequence that certain subjects retain the ability to perceive absolute pitch throughout life. Verbal categorizations of notes may be helpful in this respect, but it would be misleading to take them for the main underlying cause.
Dr. Annemarie Seither-Preisler
Abteilung für Experimentelle Audiologie
Klinik und Poliklinik für Hals-, Nasen- und Ohrenheilkunde
Kardinal von Galen Ring 10
Tel.: 0049 / 251 / 83 / 56817
Fax: 0049 / 251 / 83 / 56882
Robert J. Zatorre, Ph.D.
Montreal Neurological Institute
3801 University St.
Montreal, QC Canada H3A 2B4
web site: www.zlab.mcgill.ca