Does tonality boost short-term memory in congenital amusia?

Philippe Albouy, Katrin Schulze, Anne Caclin, Barbara Tillmann
Brain Research 2013 November 6, 1537: 224-32
Congenital amusia is a neuro-developmental disorder of music perception and production. Recent findings have demonstrated that this deficit is linked to an impaired short-term memory for tone sequences. As it has been shown before that non-musicians' implicit knowledge of musical regularities can improve short-term memory for tone information, the present study investigated if this type of implicit knowledge could also influence amusics' short-term memory performance. Congenital amusics and their matched controls, who were non-musicians, had to indicate whether sequences of five tones, presented in pairs, were the same or different; half of the pairs respected musical regularities (tonal sequences) and the other half did not (atonal sequences). As previously reported for non-musician participants, the control participants showed better performance (as measured with d') for tonal sequences than for atonal ones. While this improvement was not observed in amusics, both control and amusic participants showed faster response times for tonal sequences than for atonal sequences. These findings suggest that some implicit processing of tonal structures is potentially preserved in congenital amusia. This observation is encouraging as it strengthens the perspective to exploit implicit knowledge to help reducing pitch perception and memory deficits in amusia.

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