The amusic brain: in tune, out of key, and unaware

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperJournal articleResearchpeer-review

  • Isabelle Peretz, Univ Montreal, University of Montreal, Dept Psychol, Denmark
  • Elvira Brattico
  • Miika Jarvenpaa, Univ Helsinki, University of Helsinki, Dept Psychol, Helsinki Brain Res Ctr, Cognit Brain Res & Unit
  • ,
  • Mari Tervaniemi, Univ Helsinki, University of Helsinki, Dept Psychol, Helsinki Brain Res Ctr, Cognit Brain Res & Unit

Like language, music engagement is universal, complex and present early in life. However, 4 of the general population experiences a lifelong deficit in music perception that cannot be explained by hearing loss, brain damage, intellectual deficiencies or lack of exposure. This musical disorder, commonly known as tone-deafness and now termed congenital amusia, affects mostly the melodic pitch dimension. Congenital amusia is hereditary and is associated with abnormal grey and white matter in the auditory cortex and the inferior frontal cortex. In order to relate these anatomical anomalies to the behavioural expression of the disorder, we measured the electrical brain activity of amusic subjects and matched controls while they monitored melodies for the presence of pitch anomalies. Contrary to current reports, we show that the amusic brain can track quarter-tone pitch differences, exhibiting an early right-lateralized negative brain response. This suggests near-normal neural processing of musical pitch incongruities in congenital amusia. It is important because it reveals that the amusic brain is equipped with the essential neural circuitry to perceive fine-grained pitch differences. What distinguishes the amusic from the normal brain is the limited awareness of this ability and the lack of responsiveness to the semitone changes that violate musical keys. These findings suggest that, in the amusic brain, the neural pitch representation cannot make contact with musical pitch knowledge along the auditory-frontal neural pathway.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBrain
Volume132
Pages (from-to)1277-1286
Number of pages10
ISSN0006-8950
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2009

    Research areas

  • congenital amusia, conscious awareness, pitch perception, auditory ERPs, melodies, HUMAN AUDITORY-CORTEX, CONGENITAL AMUSIA, IMPLICIT PERCEPTION, MUSICAL DISORDERS, TONE-DEAFNESS, REPRESENTATION, REGULARITIES, FREQUENCY, GENETICS, EXPLICIT

See relations at Aarhus University Citationformats

ID: 90547737