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Open Access Publications from the University of California

An examination of contextual factors that influence auditory processing in misophonia and absolute pitch

  • Author(s): Edelstein, Miren Hope
  • Advisor(s): Ramachandran, Vilayanur S
  • Deutsch, Diana
  • et al.

This dissertation covers two unrelated topics related to human auditory processing: misophonia and absolute pitch (AP). Misophonia is a newly researched condition in which certain sounds evoke extreme distress, significantly impacting the quality of life in those who suffer from it. Absolute pitch, also known as “perfect pitch,” is the rare ability to identify or produce musical pitches in isolation without the aid of a reference pitch. Absolute pitch is extremely rare, even among lifelong musicians. Although they are unrelated, these two groups do share a common thread: they both have highly specific associations with and responses towards particular sounds that are not seen in the general population. Chapter 1 of this dissertation provided the first empirical research study ever conducted on misophonia. This study characterized the symptoms of what was, at the time of publication, a largely unknown condition. Chapter 2 further details the misophonic condition, with a particular focus on the interplay between sound and contextual information. We systematically manipulated the information paired with certain sounds and discovered that the very same sound could be reported as significantly more or less aversive, by the same individual, within the same experimental session. Chapter 3 covers a study that examined how the performance of absolute pitch possessors on a pitch labeling task could be influenced by note timbre and instrument expertise. Findings revealed a congruency effect in which participants performed significantly better on the task when trial timbres matched their instrument of expertise and worse when trial timbres did not match their instrument of expertise, highlighting an interaction of factors that can produce variation in absolute pitch ability. Taken together, the studies in this dissertation further our understanding of how auditory stimuli are processed and linked with contextual information, and ultimately show how the information associated with certain sounds can affect how we respond to them.

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