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Musical experience shapes human brainstem encoding of linguistic pitch patterns


Music and speech are very cognitively demanding auditory phenomena generally attributed to cortical rather than subcortical circuitry. We examined brainstem encoding of linguistic pitch and found that musicians show more robust and faithful encoding compared with nonmusicians. These results not only implicate a common subcortical manifestation for two presumed cortical functions, but also a possible reciprocity of corticofugal speech and music tuning, providing neurophysiological explanations for musicians' higher language-learning ability.

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Figure 1: Frequency following responses from selected subjects.
Figure 2: Pitch tracking group results.
Figure 3: Association between musical training and pitch tracking.


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The authors thank J. Song, B. Williams, J. Alexander, A. Bradlow, T. Nicol, and T. Perrachione for their assistance in this research. This work is supported by Northwestern University and the US National Institutes of Health grant R03HD051827 and R21DC007468 to P.W. and R01DC001510 to N.K, and National Science Foundation grant BCS-0544846 to N.K.

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Correspondence to Patrick C M Wong.

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Wong, P., Skoe, E., Russo, N. et al. Musical experience shapes human brainstem encoding of linguistic pitch patterns. Nat Neurosci 10, 420–422 (2007).

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