auditory staircase illusion

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A sound equivalent of the staircase illusion, discovered in 1964 by the US psychologist Roger N(ewland) Shepard (born 1929) in the perception of musical tones that are clearly defined in terms of pitch class (the twelve tones of the octave that are usually labelled C, C#, D, …, B) but are ambiguous as regards the octaves to which they belong, each tone being composed of equal-intensity sinusoidal waves from several octaves. If a sequence of such tones moving up or down through the twelve tones of the octave is played repeatedly, then instead of hearing a sequence of twelve tones being repeated, listeners hear a single sequence apparently rising or descending endlessly. Also called the illusion of circular pitch. See also melodic paradox, semitone paradox, tritone paradox.

Subjects: Psychology.

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