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Musical Illusions and Phantom WordsHow Music and Speech Unlock Mysteries of the Brain$
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Diana Deutsch

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190206833

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190206833.001.0001

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Some Musical Illusions Are Discovered

Some Musical Illusions Are Discovered

(p.24) 2 Some Musical Illusions Are Discovered
Musical Illusions and Phantom Words

Diana Deutsch

Oxford University Press

Chapter 2 focuses on musical illusions that involve stereo sounds that were discovered by the author. These are described and demonstrated as sound examples. In each illusion, two simultaneous streams of tones are played, one to the listener’s right and the other to their left. The tones are perceptually reorganized in space, so that the melodies we hear are quite different from those that are really being played. Most people tend to hear the higher tones as coming from their right and the lower tones as coming from their left, but other people hear the illusions differently. These perceptual differences depend statistically on the listener’s handedness, so that left-handers are more likely than right-handers to obtain different illusions. So not only do we hear these patterns “wrongly,” but we also hear them differently from each other. The illusions also show that listeners are strongly influenced by their assumptions concerning what is likely to occur—termed unconscious inference or top-down processing. In each illusion, sequences coming from both the right and the left channels consist of tones that leap around in pitch. However, listeners instead create in their minds patterns that do not really exist: They perceive two smooth melodies, each in a different pitch range. The illusions are not simply quirks of artificial sounds generated in the laboratory. Instead, related effects occur in music that is produced by natural instrument sounds, and can even be found in conventional orchestral music. Other related effects are also discussed.

Keywords:   octave illusion, scale illusion, chromatic illusion, cambiata illusion, glissando illusion, unconscious inference, top-down processing, right-handers, left-handers, illusory conjunctions

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