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Journal Article

Preserved statistical learning of tonal and linguistic material in congenital amusia

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Omigie, D., & Stewart, L. (2011). Preserved statistical learning of tonal and linguistic material in congenital amusia. Frontiers in Psychology, 2: 109. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00109.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002E-0372-D
Congenital amusia is a lifelong disorder whereby individuals have pervasive difficulties in perceiving and producing music. In contrast, typical individuals display a sophisticated understanding of musical structure, even in the absence of musical training. Previous research has shown that they acquire this knowledge implicitly, through exposure to music’s statistical regularities. The present study tested the hypothesis that congenital amusia may result from a failure to internalize statistical regularities – specifically, lower-order transitional probabilities. To explore the specificity of any potential deficits to the musical domain, learning was examined with both tonal and linguistic material. Participants were exposed to structured tonal and linguistic sequences and, in a subsequent test phase, were required to identify items which had been heard in the exposure phase, as distinct from foils comprising elements that had been present during exposure, but presented in a different temporal order. Amusic and control individuals showed comparable learning, for both tonal and linguistic material, even when the tonal stream included pitch intervals around one semitone. However analysis of binary confidence ratings revealed that amusic individuals have less confidence in their abilities and that their performance in learning tasks may not be contingent on explicit knowledge formation or level of awareness to the degree shown in typical individuals. The current findings suggest that the difficulties amusic individuals have with real-world music cannot be accounted for by an inability to internalize lower-order statistical regularities but may arise from other factors.