Individual Differences in Cognitive, Musical, and Perceptual Abilities

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Mauney, Lisa M.
Walker, Bruce N.
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The increasing use of auditory graphs and sonifications in technology is leading to a wider variety of system users, which, in turn, suggests a need for research in how differences between individual listeners affect sound interpretation. As a first step in this arena, the current study investigates the question of whether or not cognitive abilities and musical experience predict frequency and tempo discrimination in individuals. Participants in the study were 30 undergraduate students from Georgia Institute of Technology and 20 adults from the Atlanta, Georgia community. In the cognitive ability session, participants completed the Operation Span (Ospan) task as a measure of working memory capacity and the Ravens Progressive Matrices task as a measure of spatial reasoning. In the auditory discrimination session, participants performed a tempo and a frequency discrimination task. Demographics on age, gender, handedness, years of playing a musical instrument, and years of formal musical training were also collected. A correlational analysis of all variables was performed. Paired-samples t-tests on the Weber fractions of the six threshold means were also performed to determine if there were any significant differences between the frequency thresholds and the tempo thresholds. Lastly, multiple hierarchical regressions were performed on each of the six dependent variables to identify significant predictors of frequency and tempo discrimination. The paired samples t-tests show a significant difference between 250 Hz and 840 Hz and between 250 Hz and 1600 Hz, a violation of Webers Law. However, this violation of Webers Law may be explained by the small sample size used in the study. The t-tests also show a significant difference between the means of 150 ms and 250 ms and between the means of 250 ms and 350 ms. The results of the regression analyses show that good performance on Ravens seems to predict lower thresholds at 1600 Hz. The results also show that good scores on Ospan appear to predict lower thresholds at 350 ms ICI. In addition to these significant predictors from the regression analyses, there are many significant correlations that provide further support that cognitive abilities are related to frequency and tempo discrimination.
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