Congenital amusia: a short-term memory deficit for non-verbal, but not verbal sounds

Barbara Tillmann, Katrin Schulze, Jessica M Foxton
Brain and Cognition 2009, 71 (3): 259-64
Congenital amusia refers to a lifelong disorder of music processing and is linked to pitch-processing deficits. The present study investigated congenital amusics' short-term memory for tones, musical timbres and words. Sequences of five events (tones, timbres or words) were presented in pairs and participants had to indicate whether the sequences were the same or different. The performance of congenital amusics confirmed a memory deficit for tone sequences, but showed normal performance for word sequences. For timbre sequences, amusics' memory performance was impaired in comparison to matched controls. Overall timbre performance was found to be correlated with melodic contour processing (as assessed by the Montreal Battery of Evaluation of Amusia). The present findings show that amusics' deficits extend to non-verbal sound material other than pitch, in this case timbre, while not affecting memory for verbal material. This is in line with previous suggestions about the domain-specificity of congenital amusia.

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