Creel, S. C., & Tumlin, M. A. (2012). On-line recognition of music is influenced by relative and absolute pitch information. Cognitive Science, 36, 261-285. (Download)
Three experiments explored online recognition in a nonspeech domain, using a novel experimental paradigm. Adults learned to associate abstract shapes with particular melodies, and at test they identified a played melody’s associated shape. To implicitly measure recognition, visual fixations to the associated shape versus a distractor shape were measured as the melody played. Degree of similarity between associated melodies was varied to assess what types of pitch information adults use in recognition. Fixation and error data suggest that adults naturally recognize music, like language, incrementally, computing matches to representations before melody offset, despite the fact that music, unlike language, provides no pressure to execute recognition rapidly. Further, adults use both absolute and relative pitch information in recognition. The implicit nature of the dependent measure should permit use with a range of populations to evaluate postulated developmental and evolutionary changes in pitch encoding.