The Shepard–Risset glissando: music that moves you


Sounds are thought to contribute to the perceptions of self-motion, often via higher-level, cognitive mechanisms. This study examined whether illusory self-motion (i.e. vection) could be induced by auditory metaphorical motion stimulation (without providing any spatialized or low-level sensory information consistent with self-motion). Five different types of auditory stimuli were presented in mono to our 20 blindfolded, stationary participants (via a loud speaker array): (1) an ascending Shepard–Risset glissando; (2) a descending Shepard–Risset glissando; (3) a combined Shepard–Risset glissando; (4) a combined-adjusted (loudness-controlled) Shepard–Risset glissando; and (5) a white-noise control stimulus. We found that auditory vection was consistently induced by all four Shepard–Risset glissandi compared to the white-noise control. This metaphorical auditory vection appeared similar in strength to the vection induced by the visual reference stimulus simulating vertical self-motion. Replicating past visual vection findings, we also found that individual differences in postural instability appeared to significantly predict auditory vection strength ratings. These findings are consistent with the notion that auditory contributions to self-motion perception may be predominantly due to higher-level cognitive factors.

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  1. 1.

    When sitting in a stationary train, a train on an adjacent track begins to move and the observer typically misperceives their own train as moving in the opposite direction based on this visual motion stimulation (Dodge 1923).

  2. 2.

    Nystagmus refers to reflexive eye movements comprised of a mixture of slow phase (smooth pursuit) and fast (saccade) movements. This is normally induced by (1) the voluntary tracking of a moving visual field or (2) compensatory vestibular action during rotation of the head. In either case, nystagmus works to stabilize the foveal image in the event of scene/self-motion (Purves et al. 2001).

  3. 3.

    The Doppler Effect: the shift in sound frequency produced by the changing distance between the observer and a moving sound source (Väljamäe 2009). The emitted frequency of the sound wave (unchanged at the point of passage) is perceived to become progressively higher as the sound source approaches the observer or progressively lower as the sound source moves away from the observer (Neuhoff and McBeath 1996).

  4. 4.

    Since adding ascending/descending together increases the overall loudness, we reduced the amplitude of the combined-adjusted Shepard–Risset glissando to match the average decibels of the ascending Shepard–Risset glissando as an additional control for effects of loudness/intensity.

  5. 5.

    Shepard stimuli have been associated with a range of unusual bodily sensations that could be confused with vection (e.g. disrupted equilibrium, nausea etc.). Thus, we included a measure of vection direction (because other sensations are less likely to have an associated direction) and measured participants’ postural instability prior to any exposure to visual or auditory stimuli in an attempt to cross-validate the results.

  6. 6.

    During pilot testing, these visual motion displays were viewed while standing (with the idea of measuring sway during the displays as well as before). However, the experimenters found that these displays generated very powerful illusions and considerable perceived and physical postural instability (so much so that they did not feel comfortable standing). Accordingly, participants instead had to be seated during the actual experiment.

  7. 7.

    Romberg ratios of sway path length did not significantly predict auditory vection onset (R 2 = 0.003, t 16 = 0.219, p = 0.830) or auditory vection duration (R 2 = 0.118, t 16 = 1.414, p = 0.178). However, these null findings were not unexpected, as past studies have only been able to predict vection strength ratings using postural instability.

  8. 8.

    We ran a subsequent analysis with these nine participants removed. The same pattern of significant results was found when those who reported auditory vection to white noise (potentially high demand) were excluded.


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This research was conducted with the support of the Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship awarded to RAM. It was also supported by a University of Wollongong, Faculty of Social Sciences, Near Miss Grant awarded to SP.

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Correspondence to Rebecca A. Mursic.

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Mursic, R.A., Riecke, B.E., Apthorp, D. et al. The Shepard–Risset glissando: music that moves you. Exp Brain Res 235, 3111–3127 (2017) doi:10.1007/s00221-017-5033-1

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  • Illusory self-motion
  • Vection
  • Auditory perception
  • Shepard–Risset glissando
  • Postural sway