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Comparative replication studies of the "Levitin Effect" in five laboratories


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Fischinger, Timo ; Schlemmer, Kathrin ; Frieler, Klaus ; Müllensiefen, Daniel ; Lothwesen, Kai Stefan ; Jakubowski, Kelly:
Comparative replication studies of the "Levitin Effect" in five laboratories.
Veranstaltung: Jahrestagung 2012 der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Musikpsychologie „Musik – Psychologie – Pädagogik“, 28.-30.9.2012, Institut für Musikwissenschaft und Musikpädagogik, Universität Bremen.
(Veranstaltungsbeitrag: Kongress/Konferenz/Symposium/Tagung, Vortrag)


Over the last years, the reliability and validity of findings in (general) psychology have been seriously questioned (Schooler, 2011). Often used arguments are, among others, the (now) well-known publication bias, the ritual of statistical significance testing, the so-called 'decline effect', and, last but not least, the lack of replication studies (Ioannidis, 2005). Especially the last point is a serious issue in music psychology, because most studies never get replicated, probably due to the rather small size of the field. This raises the serious question, which findings in music psychology a really trustful and resilient - besides the merely trivial ones.

Therefore, we conducted comparative replication studies of the ‘Levitin Effect’ in five laboratories as an initial contribution to a methodological discussion about future needs in empirical music research that hopefully will start to spread across our scientific community:

When analysing human long term memory for musical pitch, relational memory (for musical intervals) is commonly distinguished from absolute memory (for the absolute pitches of tones). The ability of most musicians and non-musicians to recognise tunes even when presented in a different key suggests the existence of relational music memory. However, a series of studies points towards the additional existence of absolute music memory (most prominently: Levitin, 1994). According to Levitin's results, the majority of non absolute pitch possessors can produce pitch at an absolute level when the task is to recall a very familiar pop song recording.

Up to now, no replication of Levitin’s (1994) study has been published. The aim of this paper is to present the results of a replication project across five different labs in Germany and the UK.

All five labs used the same methodology, carefully replicating the experimental conditions of Levitin’s study. In each lab, between 40 and 60 participants were tested. They were primarily university students with different majors and included musicians and non-musicians. Participants were asked to recall a pop song that they had listened to very often, and to sing, hum, or whistle a phrase of this song exactly as they had imagined it. The produced songs were recorded, analysed regarding pitch, and compared with the published original version. A questionnaire was used to describe the musical sophistication of participants and to gather relevant information on their general music listening habits as well as their familiarity with the produced songs.

Preliminary results from three labs suggest that participants show a tendency to sing in the original key, but a little flat (mean difference of -1 semitone). This is in general line with Levitin's results. The distribution of the data is significantly not uniform, but much more spread out than Levitin's data. The distributions differ significantly in the three labs analysed so far. Interestingly, the modus of differences is 6 semitones, which is a rather puzzling result.

Our replication study supports basically the hypothesis that that there is a strong absolute component for pitch memory of very well-known tunes. However, a decline effect of results could be observed as well as some surprising pecularities, which need further clarification.


Ioannidis, J. P. A. (2005). Why Most Published Research Findings Are False. PLoS Medicine 2 (8): e124.

Levitin, D.J. (1994). Absolute memory for musical pitch: Evidence from the production of learned melodies. Perception & Psychophysics, 56 (4), 414-423.

Schooler, J. (2011). Unpublished results hide the decline effect. Nature 470, 437.

Weitere Angaben

Publikationsform:Veranstaltungsbeitrag (unveröffentlicht): Kongress/Konferenz/Symposium/Tagung, Vortrag
Schlagwörter:Scientific methods, replication, music memory, absolute pitch, pop song, music listening
Institutionen der Universität:Philosophisch-Pädagogische Fakultät > Musik > Professur für Musikwissenschaft
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Titel an der KU entstanden:Ja
Eingestellt am: 08. Aug 2012 07:36
Letzte Änderung: 12. Sep 2012 19:54
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