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Journal Article

Use of explicit priming to phenotype absolute pitch ability


Mosing,  Miriam A.       
Department of Cognitive Neuropsychology, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;
Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet;
Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, The University of Melbourne;

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Bairnsfather, J. E., Osborne, M. S., Martin, C., Mosing, M. A., & Wilson, S. J. (2022). Use of explicit priming to phenotype absolute pitch ability. PLoS One, 17(9): e0273828. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0273828.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000B-1B87-F
Musicians with absolute pitch (AP) can name the pitch of a musical note in isolation. Expression of this unusual ability is thought to be influenced by heritability, early music training and current practice. However, our understanding of factors shaping its expression is hampered by testing and scoring methods that treat AP as dichotomous. These fail to capture the observed variability in pitch-naming accuracy among reported AP possessors. The aim of this study was to trial a novel explicit priming paradigm to explore phenotypic variability of AP. Thirty-five musically experienced individuals (Mage = 29 years, range 18–68; 14 males) with varying AP ability completed a standard AP task and the explicit priming AP task. Results showed: 1) phenotypic variability of AP ability, including high-accuracy AP, heterogeneous intermediate performers, and chance-level performers; 2) intermediate performance profiles that were either reliant on or independent of relative pitch strategies, as identified by the priming task; and 3) the emergence of a bimodal distribution of AP performance when adopting scoring criteria that assign credit to semitone errors. These findings show the importance of methods in studying behavioural traits, and are a key step towards identifying AP phenotypes. Replication of our results in larger samples will further establish the usefulness of this priming paradigm in AP research.