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Brain. 2001 May;124(Pt 5):928-40.

Cortical deafness to dissonance.

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Department of Psychology and Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal, University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


Ordinary listeners, including infants, easily distinguish consonant from dissonant pitch combinations and consider the former more pleasant than the latter. The preference for consonance over dissonance was tested in a patient, I.R., who suffers from music perception and memory disorders as a result of bilateral lesions to the auditory cortex. In Experiment 1, I.R. was found to be unable to distinguish consonant from dissonant versions of musical excerpts taken from the classical repertoire by rating their pleasantness. I.R.'s indifference to dissonance was not due to a loss of all affective responses to music, however, since she rated the same excerpts as happy or sad, as normal controls do. In Experiment 2, I.R.'s lack of responsiveness to varying degrees of dissonance was replicated with chord sequences which had been used in a previous study using PET, in examining emotional responses to dissonance. A CT scan of I.R.'s brain was co-registered with the PET activation data from normal volunteers. Comparison of I.R.'s scan with the PET data revealed that the damaged areas overlapped with the regions identified to be involved in the perceptual analysis of the musical input, but not with the paralimbic regions involved in affective responses. Taken together, the findings suggest that dissonance may be computed bilaterally in the superior temporal gyri by specialized mechanisms prior to its emotional interpretation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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