Priming in melody perception: Tracking down the strength of cognitive expectations

Frederic Marmel, Frédéric Marmel, Barbara Tillmann, Charles Delbé

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The musical priming paradigm has shown facilitated processing for tonally related over less-related targets. However, the congruence between tonal relatedness and the psychoacoustical properties of music challenges cognitive interpretations of the involved processes. Our goal was to show that cognitive expectations (based on listeners' tonal knowledge) elicit tonal priming in melodies independently of sensory components (e.g., spectral overlap). A first priming experiment minimized sensory components by manipulating tonal relatedness with a single note change in the melodies. Processing was facilitated for related over less-related target tones, but an auditory short-term memory model succeeded in simulating this effect, thus suggesting a sensory-based explanation. When the same melodies were played with pure tones (instead of piano tones), the sensory model failed to differentiate between related and less-related targets, while listeners' data continued to show a tonal relatedness effect (Experiment 2). The tonal priming effect observed here thus provides strong evidence for the influence of listeners' tonal knowledge on music processing. The overall findings point out the need for controlled musical material (and notably beyond tone repetition) to study cognitive components in music perception. © 2010 American Psychological Association.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1016-1028
    Number of pages12
    JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2010


    • Cognitive
    • Priming
    • Sensory
    • Tonal expectations


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