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Journal Article

Cognitive representation of "musical fractals": Processing hierarchy and recursion in the auditory domain


Martins,  Mauricio
Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany;
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Department of Cognitive Biology, University Vienna, Austria;

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Martins, M., Gingras, B., Puig-Waldmueller, E., & Fitch, W. T. (2017). Cognitive representation of "musical fractals": Processing hierarchy and recursion in the auditory domain. Cognition, 161, 31-45. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2017.01.001.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002C-55D4-3
The human ability to process hierarchical structures has been a longstanding research topic. However, the nature of the cognitive machinery underlying this faculty remains controversial. Recursion, the ability to embed structures within structures of the same kind, has been proposed as a key component of our ability to parse and generate complex hierarchies. Here, we investigated the cognitive representation of both recursive and iterative processes in the auditory domain. The experiment used a two-alternative forced-choice paradigm: participants were exposed to three-step processes in which pure-tone sequences were built either through recursive or iterative processes, and had to choose the correct completion. Foils were constructed according to generative processes that did not match the previous steps. Both musicians and non-musicians were able to represent recursion in the auditory domain, although musicians performed better. We also observed that general ‘musical’ aptitudes played a role in both recursion and iteration, although the influence of musical training was somehow independent from melodic memory. Moreover, unlike iteration, recursion in audition was well correlated with its non-auditory (recursive) analogues in the visual and action sequencing domains. These results suggest that the cognitive machinery involved in establishing recursive representations is domain-general, even though this machinery requires access to information resulting from domain-specific processes.