Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology



First Committee Member

Erin E. Hannon, Chair

Second Committee Member

Joel S. Snyder

Third Committee Member

Jennifer L. Rennels

Graduate Faculty Representative

Eugenie I. Burkett

Number of Pages



Speech and music are two forms of complex auditory structure that play fundamental roles in everyday human experience and require certain basic perceptual and cognitive abilities. Nevertheless, when attempting to infer patterns from sequential auditory input, human listeners may use the same information differently depending on whether a sound is heard in a linguistic vs. musical context. The goal of these studies was to examine the role of domain-specific knowledge in auditory pattern perception. Specifically, the study examined the inference of "rules" in novel sound sequences that contained patterns of spectral structure (speech or instrument timbre) and fundamental frequency (pitch). Across all experiments, participants were first familiarized to a sequence containing pitch or syllable patterns that followed a particular rule (e.g., ABA), and they were subsequently asked to rate the similarity of novel sequences that were consistent or inconsistent with that rule. In two experiments participants were familiarized to either a pitch or syllable rule, and in a third experiment they were familiarized to simultaneous conflicting rules (e.g. pitch following ABA but syllables following ABB). Although participants readily detected inconsistent stimuli after familiarization to a single rule, in the conflicting two-rule condition they gave high similarity ratings to any stimulus that obeyed the syllable rule, regardless of whether or not the music dimension was consistent or inconsistent with familiarization. Three additional experiments took the same approach but tested rule-learning on the basis of pitch or timbre (instrument) sequences. In these experiments, participants gave the highest similarity ratings when the pitch rule was preserved, regardless of variation in the timbre dimension. These results support the notion that adults "filter" information according to domain-specific knowledge and expectations, presumably due to perceptual learning processes that take place during early development.


Auditory perception; Domain-specific; Language; Music; Musical perception; Rule-learning; Speech perception


Cognition and Perception | Cognitive Psychology | Developmental Psychology

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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