Individuals with congenital amusia imitate pitches more accurately in singing than in speaking: implications for music and language processing

Fang Liu, Cunmei Jiang, Peter Q Pfordresher, James T Mantell, Yi Xu, Yufang Yang, Lauren Stewart
Attention, Perception & Psychophysics 2013, 75 (8): 1783-98
In this study, we investigated the impact of congenital amusia, a disorder of musical processing, on speech and song imitation in speakers of a tone language, Mandarin. A group of 13 Mandarin-speaking individuals with congenital amusia and 13 matched controls were recorded while imitating a set of speech and two sets of song stimuli with varying pitch and rhythm patterns. The results indicated that individuals with congenital amusia were worse than controls in both speech and song imitation, in terms of both pitch matching (absolute and relative) and rhythm matching (relative time and number of time errors). Like the controls, individuals with congenital amusia achieved better absolute and relative pitch matching and made fewer pitch interval and contour errors in song than in speech imitation. These findings point toward domain-general pitch (and time) production deficits in congenital amusia, suggesting the presence of shared pitch production mechanisms but distinct requirements for pitch-matching accuracy in language and music processing.

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