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Rainsford et al 2019 distinctiveness effect.pdf (503.24 kB)

The Distinctiveness Effect in the Recognition of Whole Melodies

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 02:57 authored by Rainsford, M, Matthew PalmerMatthew Palmer, James SauerJames Sauer
Distinctive stimuli are better recognized than typical stimuli in many domains (e.g., faces, words). Distinctiveness predicts the point of recognition of a melody (Bailes, 2010), and the recognition of unique tones within a melody (Vuvan, Podolak, & Schmuckler, 2014), yet no studies have examined the role of distinctiveness in recognizing whole melodies. We composed a set of novel melodies according to rules that should result in these being perceived as more or less distinctive. Using computational analysis and human ratings by a group of 36 pilot testers, we established a final stimulus set of 96 novel melodies (48 eightnote, 48 sixteen-note), half of which were high and half low in distinctiveness. A separate group of 26 participants completed a recognition test using this stimulus set. Using linear mixed-effects modeling, we found that greater pitch and interval range, wider intervals, varied contour, and ambiguous tonality within a Western diatonic framework predicted human perception of distinctiveness. However, only a wider modal (most frequent) interval predicted correct recognition. Distinctiveness improved recognition performance in both stimulus lengths; however, a significant advantage was only shown for sixteen-note melodies. Thus, the distinctiveness effect as observed across domains generalizes to the recognition of longer, whole melodies.


Australian Research Council


Publication title

Music Perception








School of Creative Arts and Media


Univ Calif Press

Place of publication

C/O Journals Division, 2000 Center St, Ste 303, Berkeley, USA, Ca, 94704-1223

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  • Open

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in psychology

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