Boosting pitch encoding with audiovisual interactions in congenital amusia

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Abstract

The combination of information across senses can enhance perception, as revealed for example by decreased reaction times or improved stimulus detection. Interestingly, these facilitatory effects have been shown to be maximal when responses to unisensory modalities are weak. The present study investigated whether audiovisual facilitation can be observed in congenital amusia, a music-specific disorder primarily ascribed to impairments of pitch processing. Amusic individuals and their matched controls performed two tasks. In Task 1, they were required to detect auditory, visual, or audiovisual stimuli as rapidly as possible. In Task 2, they were required to detect as accurately and as rapidly as possible a pitch change within an otherwise monotonic 5-tone sequence that was presented either only auditorily (A condition), or simultaneously with a temporally congruent, but otherwise uninformative visual stimulus (AV condition). Results of Task 1 showed that amusics exhibit typical auditory and visual detection, and typical audiovisual integration capacities: both amusics and controls exhibited shorter response times for audiovisual stimuli than for either auditory stimuli or visual stimuli. Results of Task 2 revealed that both groups benefited from simultaneous uninformative visual stimuli to detect pitch changes: accuracy was higher and response times shorter in the AV condition than in the A condition. The audiovisual improvements of response times were observed for different pitch interval sizes depending on the group. These results suggest that both typical listeners and amusic individuals can benefit from multisensory integration to improve their pitch processing abilities and that this benefit varies as a function of task difficulty. These findings constitute the first step towards the perspective to exploit multisensory paradigms to reduce pitch-related deficits in congenital amusia, notably by suggesting that audiovisual paradigms are effective in an appropriate range of unimodal performance.

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