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J Acoust Soc Am. 1992 Jun;91(6):3527-31.

Effects of musical training and absolute pitch ability on event-related activity in response to sine tones.

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Department of Surgery, University of Rochester Medical Center, New York 14642.


The neural correlates of music perception have received relatively little scientific attention. The neural activity of listeners without musical training (N = 11), highly trained musicians (N = 14), and musicians possessing "absolute pitch" (AP) ability (N = 10) have been measured. Major differences were observed in the P3, an endogenous event-related potential (ERP), which is thought to be a neurophysiological manifestation of working memory processing. The P3 was elicited using the classical "oddball" paradigm with a sine-tone series. Subjects' musical backgrounds were evaluated with a survey questionnaire. AP ability was verified with an objective pitch identification test. The P3 amplitude, latency and wave shape were evaluated along with each subjects' performance score and musical background. The AP subjects showed a significantly smaller P3 amplitude than either the musicians or nonmusicians, which were nearly identical. The P3 latency was shortest for the AP subjects, and was longer for the nonmusicians. Performance scores were uniformly high in all three groups. It is concluded that AP subjects do indeed exhibit P3 ERPs, albeit with smaller amplitudes and shorter latencies. The differences in neural activity between the musicians and AP subjects were not due to musical training, as the AP subjects had similar musical backgrounds to the musician group. It is also concluded that persons with the AP ability may have superior auditory sensitivity at cortical levels and/or use unique neuropsychological strategies when processing tones.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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