Back to the piano ... ("James W. Beauchamp" )

Subject: Back to the piano ...
From:    "James W. Beauchamp"  <jwb(at)TIMBRE.MUSIC.UIUC.EDU>
Date:    Thu, 22 Oct 1998 23:00:06 -0500

Folks, I want to thank everyone who responded to my original post; your comments were most useful. After reviewing my friend's description of his project, I have to report that I misunderstand one aspect of his reported data calculation. To review, N original piano tones performed at various pitches together with N synthetic tones, which were "imitations" of the original tones, were arranged in random order and presented to each subject. On each trial the subject had to report whether he believed the sound to be an original tone or a synthetic tone (no uncertain choice allowed). Then the percentages of correctly identified synthetics ("hits") and incorrectly catagorized originals ("false alarms") were tabulated. What was reported was the difference between these two scores, called the "discrimination score". (The idea was to "penalize" the subject for guessing; I think this is an old trick, frequently used on multiple choice exams.) If H is the percent hits, and F is the false alarm rate, then the discrimation score would be D = H - F If the subject is guessing with a consistent bias, theoretically D = 0. If the subject perfectly discriminates between the original and synthetic tones (or does perfect catagorization), we have H = 100 and F = 0, so the discrimation D = 100%. Otherwise, ordinarily H - F = D > 0. In my friend's case the results were 15% < D < 45%, depending on the pitch of tones. (My own belief is that this dependence is due to the complexities of the tones rather than some pitch-related perceptual phenomenon. Indeed, the higher notes, having fewer harmonics, had the lowest scores, whereas the lower notes had the highest scores.) What threw me off was my friend's assertion that D = 50% could be taken as the "indistinguishability threshold", and since the results were below that threshold, the synthetic tones were therefore considered to be "indistinguishable" from the originals. However, it seems to me that D = 50% is rather arbitrary, and my friend's scores do in fact indicate that some degree of discrimination is going on. Would you agree? Now, getting back to the comments on my previous post, which are still germane: A lot of people proposed using ROC curves. For example, Timothy Justus remarked: >By knowing both the hit rate and the false alarm rate (or the miss and >correct rejection rates, since these are 1 minus the other two, >respectively) you can plot a receiver operating characteristic (ROC) which >can separate effects of sensitivity and decision criterion. The probability >of hits is plotted against the probability of false alarms. A point falling >near the diagonal would represent chance performance - they can't tell the >difference - whereas points away from this line show discrimination. I assume that the different points on the curve must come from data points generated by different subjects, who would be assumed to have different biases. Is that correct? Anyway, doesn't presenting the D scores (as I defined it above) accomplish the same thing? If a point is above the diagonal, then D = H - F > 0. The advantage of the D scores is that they are probably easy to understand by the typical reader of a sound synthesis article. Another way to present the data would be percent correct, P. In this case, P = .5*(H + (1-F)) = .5 + .5*D So we see that this is just a rescaling of the D data where, in this case, 100% corresponds to perfect discrimination (or catagorization) and 50% is the guessing threshold. So it seems to me that D and P are valid ways to report these results. The single-interval forced-choice task is simple, and the math is simple and easily understood. But does it pass muster in the psycho-acoustic world? Jim Beauchamp University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign j-beauch(at) McGill is running a new version of LISTSERV (1.8d on Windows NT). Information is available on the WEB at

This message came from the mail archive
maintained by:
DAn Ellis <>
Electrical Engineering Dept., Columbia University