Fine-grained pitch processing of music and speech in congenital amusia

Barbara Tillmann, Elena Rusconi, Caroline Traube, Brian Butterworth, Carlo Umiltà, Isabelle Peretz
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 2011, 130 (6): 4089-96
Congenital amusia is a lifelong disorder of music processing that has been ascribed to impaired pitch perception and memory. The present study tested a large group of amusics (n=17) and provided evidence that their pitch deficit affects pitch processing in speech to a lesser extent: Fine-grained pitch discrimination was better in spoken syllables than in acoustically matched tones. Unlike amusics, control participants performed fine-grained pitch discrimination better for musical material than for verbal material. These findings suggest that pitch extraction can be influenced by the nature of the material (music vs speech), and that amusics' pitch deficit is not restricted to musical material, but extends to segmented speech events.

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