Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Individuals with Congenital Amusia Imitate Pitches More Accurately in Singing Than in Speaking: Implications for Music and Language Processing

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Individuals with Congenital Amusia Imitate Pitches More Accurately in Singing Than in Speaking: Implications for Music and Language Processing

Article excerpt

Published online: 23 July 2013

(Q> Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract 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.

Keywords Modularity of perception * Music cognition * Sound recognition * Perception and action * Speech production * Temporal processing

Congenital amusia is a disorder primarily of pitch perception and production that has a profound impact on musical processing, but only minor effects on speech processing (Ayotte, Peretz, & Hyde, 2002; Liu, Patel, Fourcin, & Stewart, 2010; Patel, 2008; Peretz, Ayotte, Zatorre, Mehler, Ahad, Penhune, & Juttas, 2002; Thompson, Marin, & Stewart, 2012). Recent research has suggested that the apparent domain specificity of congenital amusia can be explained partly by the following observations: First, individuals with congenital amusia only demonstrate reduced performance in speech processing when the pitch contrasts involved are relatively small (Hutchins, Gosselin, & Peretz, 2010; Jiang, Hamm, Lim, Kirk, & Yang, 2010; Liu et al., 2010; Liu, Jiang, Thompson, Xu, Yang, & Stewart, 2012; Nan, Sun, & Peretz, 2010; Patel, Wong, Foxton, Lochy, & Peretz, 2008); second, linguistic contexts and acoustic features other than pitch (e.g., duration, intensity) may provide additional cues for speech communication (Liu, Jiang, et al., 2012; Patel, Foxton, & Griffiths, 2005); and finally, the pitch-processing deficits in individuals with congenital amusia are more pronounced with discrete musical pitches than with gliding pitches in speech (Foxton, Dean, Gee, Peretz, & Griffiths, 2004; Liu, Xu, Patel, Francart, & Jiang, 2012). However, evidence is missing with regard to how the different functions of language and music may impact the domain specificity of congenital amusia. Pitch patterns in speech do not need to match a specified standard, but instead merely need to convey contrastive functional information (Xu 2005). By contrast, musical pitch must conform to specific conventions that apply to individual pitches as well as pitch patterns. In other words, the "form" taken by pitch patterns acts as a means of communication in speech, but is the intended end product for music (Patel, 2008). Understanding how musical versus linguistic pitch processing in congenital amusia is affected by the nature of music and language is useful for formulating a model of pitch processing in music and language that takes into account how impairments compromise auditory-processing skills in either domain. Considering four theoretical perspectives, in the present study we examined the characteristics of pitch and rhythm processing in speech versus song imitation in individuals with congenital amusia who speak a tone language, Mandarin.

The relationship between music and language

Much recent research has pointed to shared mechanisms between music and speech processing for individuals of different language and musical backgrounds (Bidelman, Gandour, & Krishnan, 2011; Hutchins, Gosselin, & Peretz, 2010; Jiang et al. …

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