Tone Deafness linked to Lack of Spatial Processing

From a study by Douglas, KM and Bilkey, DK:

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 [emphasis added].>

I hear from people all the time that they’re tone-deaf. In every instance, that’s been not true, because there’s a simple test for tone deafness. I ask, “Can you tell, without listening to the words, which song is playing on the radio? Can you tell if you have heard a song before?” Truly tone-deaf people cannot tell the difference between one song and the next.

sepia photograph, compass sits over southern part of Africa over old-style map

Compass on Old Map

This study provides a fascinating insight into the original Mozart effect study, and why those results may have occurred. The original Mozart effect study was done by Rauscher, Shaw and Ky (1993)and demonstrated a temporary increase in spatio-temporal reasoning. Of course, the studies since then (many chronicled on this blog) have shown that music, especially classical music, is intricately linked to the brain in ways no-one can yet understand.

So for all you people out there that think you have no ability for music because you’re “tone-deaf,” think again. First, you’re probably not really tone-deaf, and second, even if you are tone-deaf, you may benefit from musical training in any case, because your brain will change.

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