The Distinction Between Integral And Separable Dimensions: Evidence For The Integrality Of Pitch And Loudness

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Journal Of Experimental Psychology: General


Six experiments are reported that investigated the reality and generality of dimensional integrality (Garner, 1974a) by evaluating whether the auditory dimensions of pitch and loudness are psychologically privileged and whether they combine in an integral fashion. In Experiment 1 we psychophysically scaled the dimensions to ensure that, within the stimulus range used, the perceived value on each dimension would remain constant in the face of variation on the other dimension. In Experiments 2 through 4 we assessed performance by using the converging operations by which Garner defined integrality and separability. Experiment 2 showed that in speeded classification, pitch and loudness lead to facilitation with redundant variation and interference with orthogonal variation. Experiment 3 showed that unspeeded classifications are guided predominantly by overall similarity. Experiment 4 established that the better-fitting metric by which multidimensional similarity is appreciated is Euclidean rather than city block. These results suggest that the dimensions of pitch and loudness combine in an integral fashion. In Experiments 5 and 6 we investigated whether the dimensions of pitch and loudness have a privileged status by assessing the impact of rotating the dimensional axes on performance in a speeded sorting task. Experiment 5 looked at six alternative dimensional orientations to pitch and loudness. If anything, rotating the dimensional axes increased the amount of interference in filtering. In Experiment 6 we assessed an alternative dimensional description of the stimuli based on the dimensions of volume and brightness. We found greater interference when the stimuli varied along the dimensions of volume and brightness than when they varied along the dimensions of pitch and loudness. The fact that the least interference is observed when the stimuli vary along the dimensions of pitch and loudness suggests that these dimensions are the more psychologically valid ones. These findings indicate that integrality is not a "myth," that is, merely a case of psychophysical mismatch. Instead, dimensions that are psychologically real are sometimes processed in a unitary fashion.

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