For over two thousand years, musicians and scientists have puzzled over why some combinations of musical tones played together sound more harmonious than others. Now, Duke University perception scientists David Schwartz, Catherine Howe and Dale Purves have presented evidence that variation in the relative harmoniousness, or "consonance," of different tone combinations arises from people´s exposure to the acoustical characteristics of speech sounds. Schwartz and Howe are postdoctoral fellows, and Purves is Director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and the George B. Geller Professor of Neurobiology.
The researchers said that their findings, reported in the Aug. 6, 2003, issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, constitute an important advance in understanding the biological basis of music perception. The work also extends to hearing the theoretical framework about brain organization that Purves and his colleagues developed in earlier work on visual perception.
Those studies of vision led to the idea that evolution -- as well as individual experience during development -- created a visual system in which perceptions are determined by what a given visual stimulus has typically signified in the past, rather than simply representing to an observer what is presently `out there.´ That work is summarized in a new book entitled Why We See What We Do (Sinauer Associates, 2003).
Dennis Meredith | EurekAlert!
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