Auditory deficits in amusia extend beyond poor pitch perception

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Abstract

Congenital amusia is a music perception disorder believed to reflect a deficit in fine-grained pitch perception and/or short-term or working memory for pitch. Because most measures of pitch perception include memory and segmentation components, it has been difficult to determine the true extent of pitch processing deficits in amusia. It is also unclear whether pitch deficits persist at frequencies beyond the range of musical pitch. To address these questions, experiments were conducted with amusics and matched controls, manipulating both the stimuli and the task demands. First, we assessed pitch discrimination at low (500 Hz and 2000 Hz) and high (8000 Hz) frequencies using a three-interval forced-choice task. Amusics exhibited deficits even at the highest frequency, which lies beyond the existence region of musical pitch. Next, we assessed the extent to which frequency coding deficits persist in one- and two-interval frequency-modulation (FM) and amplitude-modulation (AM) detection tasks at 500 Hz at slow (fm=4 Hz) and fast (fm=20 Hz) modulation rates. Amusics still exhibited deficits in one-interval FM detection tasks that should not involve memory or segmentation. Surprisingly, amusics were also impaired on AM detection, which should not involve pitch processing. Finally, direct comparisons between the detection of continuous and discrete FM demonstrated that amusics suffer deficits in both coding and segmenting pitch information. Our results reveal auditory deficits in amusia extending beyond pitch perception that are subtle when controlling for memory and segmentation, and are likely exacerbated in more complex contexts such as musical listening.

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