Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

, Volume 81, Issue 7, pp 2473–2481 | Cite as

Pitch-specific contributions of auditory imagery and auditory memory in vocal pitch imitation

  • Emma B. GreensponEmail author
  • Peter Q. Pfordresher
Time for Action: Reaching for a Better Understanding of the Dynamics of Cognition


Vocal imitation guides both music and language development. Despite the developmental significance of this behavior, a sizable minority of individuals are inaccurate at vocal pitch imitation. Although previous research suggested that inaccurate pitch imitation results from deficient sensorimotor associations between pitch perception and vocal motor planning, the cognitive processes involved in sensorimotor translation are not clearly defined. In the present research, we investigated the roles of basic cognitive processes in the vocal imitation of pitch, as well as the degree to which these processes rely on pitch-specific resources. In the present study, participants completed a battery of pitch and verbal tasks to measure pitch perception, pitch and verbal auditory imagery, pitch and verbal auditory short-term memory, and pitch imitation ability. Information on participants’ music background was collected, as well. Pitch imagery, pitch short-term memory, pitch discrimination ability, and musical experience were unique predictors of pitch imitation ability. Furthermore, pitch imagery was a partial mediator of the relationship between pitch short-term memory and pitch imitation ability. These results indicate that vocal imitation recruits cognitive processes that rely on at least partially separate neural resources for pitch and verbal representations.


Vocal pitch imitation Auditory imagery Short-term memory 



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© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity at Buffalo, State University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyMonmouth UniversityWest Long BranchUSA

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