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Amusia is associated with deficits in spatial processing

Nature Neuroscience volume 10, pages 915921 (2007) | Download Citation

Abstract

Amusia (commonly referred to as tone-deafness) is a difficulty in discriminating pitch changes in melodies that affects around 4% of the human population. Amusia cannot be explained as a simple sensory impairment. Here we show that amusia is strongly related to a deficit in spatial processing in adults. Compared to two matched control groups (musicians and non-musicians), participants in the amusic group were significantly impaired on a visually presented mental rotation task. Amusic subjects were also less prone to interference in a spatial stimulus-response incompatibility task and performed significantly faster than controls in an interference task in which they were required to make simple pitch discriminations while concurrently performing a mental rotation task. This indicates that the processing of pitch in music normally depends on the cognitive mechanisms that are used to process spatial representations in other modalities.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to L. Franz and R. O'Shea for useful comments on the manuscript and the procedure.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Psychology, 95 Union St, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand.

    • Katie M Douglas
    •  & David K Bilkey

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David K Bilkey.

Supplementary information

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Fig. 1

    The relationship between scores on the MBEA subtest and errors on the mental rotation task, with the data from two left-handed amusic subjects marked with asterisks.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1925

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