A behavior analysis of absolute pitch: Sex, experience, and species

Ronald G. Weisman, Milan G. Njegovan, Mitchel T. Williams, Jerome S. Cohen, Christopher B. Sturdy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Absolute pitch (AP) perception refers to the ability to identify, classify, and memorize pitches without use of an external reference pitch. In tests of AP, several species were trained to sort contiguous tones into three or eight frequency ranges, based on correlations between responding to tones in each frequency range and reinforcement. Two songbird species, zebra finches and white-throated sparrows, and a parrot species, budgerigars had highly accurate AP, they discriminated both three and eight ranges with precision. Relative to normally reared songbirds, isolate reared songbirds had impaired AP. Two mammalian species, humans and rats, had equivalent and weak AP, they discriminated three frequency ranges to a lackluster standard and they acquired only a crude discrimination of the lowest and highest of eight frequency ranges. In comparisons with mammals even isolate songbirds had more accurate AP than humans and rats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-307
Number of pages19
JournalBehavioural Processes
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 30 2004


  • Absolute pitch
  • Frequency-ratio
  • Pitch-shifted


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