Methodological considerations for fMRI studies of pitch processing

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Daphne Garcia


Four functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies of pitch processing in auditory cortex were designed to reduce the impact of a number of methodological issues that have hitherto limited previous research findings. Due to adaptation effects, it is necessary to repeatedly present short stimulus bursts rather than long-duration stimuli. Thus, conventionally, in neuroimaging studies of pitch perception, a number of short bursts of the pitch stimulus, separated by silent intervals, are compared to a Gaussian noise presented in the same way. The results of the first experiment indicate that replacing the silent intervals with an energetically matched noise context increases the pitch-specific response by removing the 'energy-onset response' that saturates the overall response if silent intervals are used. In the second experiment, a particular pitch-evoking stimulus, iterated ripple noise (IRN), which is commonly used in neuroimaging studies of pitch perception, was examined. Hall and Plack (Cerebral Cortex 2009;19:576-585) showed that IRN contains slowly varying spectro-temporal features unrelated to pitch, and suggested that these features could account for at least some of the cortical activation produced by IRN. The results support this hypothesis, but also suggest that there is an additional pitch-dependent effect in the same region of auditory cortex.The third experiment assessed the effect of using a different control stimulus to the usual Gaussian noise. The new matched controls were a pulse train with randomly jittered inter-pulse intervals and a random-phase unresolved harmonic complex tone. These low-pitch-salience controls were compared to a regular interval pulse train, which is identical to a cosine-phase unresolved harmonic complex tone. The third experiment did not provide evidence for sensitivity to pitch-salience in pitch-responsive regions of auditory cortex. The fourth and final experiment was a factorial design seeking to answer two main questions: 1) Is the pitch-sensitive region of auditory cortex responsive to the salience of other sound features (e.g. modulation)? 2) Are the responses to pitch and to modulation within this region co-located? Two different pitch-evoking stimuli with different levels of pitch salience were used, presented in a noise context. Results indicate that the pitch-sensitive region contains representations for both pitch and modulation. Furthermore, there was no evidence for an interaction between pitch and modulation, suggesting that the two responses are independent.Overall, the results suggest that careful stimulus design, and appropriate experimental control, is necessary to obtain reliable information on the cortical response to pitch. In addition, the results have shed further light on the likely neural substrates of pitch processing in the cortex.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2010