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Short-term Memory for Musical Intervals: Cognitive Differences for Consonance and Dissonant Pure-Tone Dyads

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To explore the origins of sensory and musical consonance/dissonance, 16 participants performed a short-term memory task by listening to sequentially presented pure-tone dyads. Each dyad was presented twice; during each trial participants judged whether a dyad was novel or familiar. Nonmusicians showed greater recognition of musically dissonant than musically consonant dyads. Musicians recognized all dyads more accurately than predicted. Neither group used sensory distinctiveness as a recognition cue, suggesting that the frequency ratio, rather than the frequency difference between two tones, underlies memory for musical intervals. Participants recognized dyads well beyond the generally understood auditory short-term memory limit of 30 seconds, despite the inability to encode the stimuli for long-term storage.

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