Interference in memory for pitch-only and rhythm-only sequences

Steffen Herff, Kirk N. Olsen, Jon Prince, Roger T. Dean

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    In human memory, the ability to recognize a previously encountered stimulus often undergoes cumulative interference when the number of intervening items between its first and second presentation increases. Although this is a common effect in many domains, melodies composed in tuning systems familiar to participants (e.g., Western tonal music) do not seem to suffer such cumulative decrements in recognition performance. Interestingly, melodies in unfamiliar tuning systems do show cumulative decrements. This finding has been predicted by a novel Regenerative Multiple Representations (RMR) conjecture. The present study further explores this phenomenon and the conjecture by investigating pitch-only (isochronous rhythm) and rhythm-only (monotone pitch) sequences of melodies in an unfamiliar tuning system that previously showed cumulative disruptive effects. Experiment 1 replicated previous studies reporting significant interference effects from the number of intervening items when melodies use uncommon rhythms and are composed in an unfamiliar tuning system. Furthermore, as predicted by the RMR conjecture, when rhythmic information was neutralized (Experiment 2), the cumulative interference related to the number of intervening items was retained. This was also the case when the original pitch information of each melody was neutralized, leaving variation only in the rhythmic information (Experiment 3). Results are discussed in the context of the RMR conjecture: given converse results, the conjecture would have been falsified. However, it currently remains plausible and appears to be a useful tool for precise predictions about the link between prior experience, perception, and formation of new memories.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)344-361
    Number of pages18
    JournalMusicae Scientiae
    Issue number3
    Early online date2018
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


    • interference
    • memory
    • music perception
    • pitch
    • recognition
    • rhythm


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