Detection of mistuned partials in otherwise harmonic complex tones was investigated in naïve subjects of three different age groups. Signals were presented at constant sensation level to compensate for differences in hearing sensitivity and to specifically examine age-related changes in inharmonicity perception. Performance was measured under two conditions, monaural signal presentation and dichotic signal-noise presentation, with the latter aiming at the influence of contralateral distractor sounds. Stimuli were complex tones with ten harmonics and 125-Hz fundamental frequency. Mistuning detection was measured for the first, second, fourth, and eighth harmonic. In a three-interval, three-alternative forced-choice procedure, subjects were required to distinguish a complex tone containing one mistuned partial from two reference tones, with all partials at their harmonic frequencies. Thresholds were measured as the amount of frequency shift necessary for the mistuning to be detected. Performance deteriorated moderately with age for the two higher partials tested, but not for the lower ones. Thresholds for dichotic signal/noise presentation did not differ significantly from monaural ones in any of the age groups. Results are discussed in relation to hypotheses of harmonicity perception in auditory scene analysis and with respect to the investigation of patients suffering form respective deficits due to acquired brain lesions.
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