Creel, S. C. (2011). Specific previous experience affects perception of harmony and meter. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. (available on-line) (Download)
Prior knowledge shapes our experiences, but which prior knowledge shapes which experiences? This question is addressed in the domain of music perception. Three experiments were used to determine whether listeners activate specific musical memories during music listening. Each experiment provided listeners with one of two musical contexts that was presented simultaneously with a melody. After a listener was familiarized with melodies embedded in contexts, the listener heard melodies in isolation and judged the fit of a final harmonic or metrical probe event. The probe event matched either the familiar (but absent) context or an unfamiliar context. For both harmonic (Experiments 1 and 3) and metrical (Experiment 2) information, exposure to context shifted listeners' preferences toward a probe matching the context that they had been familiarized with. This suggests that listeners rapidly form specific musical memories without explicit instruction, which are then activated during music listening. These data pose an interesting challenge for models of music perception which implicitly assume that the listener's knowledge base is predominantly schematic or abstract.