Timbre is a multidimensional perceptual attribute of complex tones that characterizes the identity of a sound source. Our study explores the representation in auditory sensory memory of three timbre dimensions (acoustically related to attack time, spectral centroid, and spectrum fine structure), using the mismatch negativity (MMN) component of the auditory event-related potential. MMN is elicited by a discriminable change in a sound sequence and reflects the detection of the discrepancy between the current stimulus and traces in auditory sensory memory. The stimuli used in the present study were carefully controlled synthetic tones. MMNs were recorded after changes along each of the three timbre dimensions and their combinations. Additivity of unidimensional MMNs and dipole modeling results suggest partially separate MMN generators for different timbre dimensions, reflecting their mainly separate processing in auditory sensory memory. The results expand to timbre dimensions a property of separation of the representation in sensory memory that has already been reported between basic perceptual attributes (pitch, loudness, duration, and location) of sound sources.

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