The perception of FM sweeps by Chinese and English listeners

Huan Luo, Anthony Boemio, Michael Gordon, David Poeppel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Frequency-modulated (FM) signals are an integral acoustic component of ecologically natural sounds and are analyzed effectively in the auditory systems of humans and animals. Linearly frequency-modulated tone sweeps were used here to evaluate two questions. First, how rapid a sweep can listeners accurately perceive? Second, is there an effect of native language insofar as the language (phonology) is differentially associated with processing of FM signals? Speakers of English and Mandarin Chinese were tested to evaluate whether being a speaker of a tone language altered the perceptual identification of non-speech tone sweeps. In two psychophysical studies, we demonstrate that Chinese subjects perform better than English subjects in FM direction identification, but not in an FM discrimination task, in which English and Chinese speakers show similar detection thresholds of approximately 20 ms duration. We suggest that the better FM direction identification in Chinese subjects is related to their experience with FM direction analysis in the tone-language environment, even though supra-segmental tonal variation occurs over a longer time scale. Furthermore, the observed common discrimination temporal threshold across two language groups supports the conjecture that processing auditory signals at durations of ∼20 ms constitutes a fundamental auditory perceptual threshold.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-83
Number of pages9
JournalHearing Research
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Feb 2007


  • Bias
  • FM direction selectivity
  • FM discrimination
  • FM identification
  • Signal detection
  • Temporal threshold
  • Tone language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems


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