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Neuropsychologia. 2017 Sep;104:48-53. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2017.08.004. Epub 2017 Aug 4.

Congenital amusics use a secondary pitch mechanism to identify lexical tones.

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Acoustics Research Centre, University of Salford, Salford M5 4WT, UK. Electronic address:
Department of Linguistics & Modern Languages and Brain and Mind Institute, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR. Electronic address:


Amusia is a pitch perception disorder associated with deficits in processing and production of both musical and lexical tones, which previous reports have suggested may be constrained to fine-grained pitch judgements. In the present study speakers of tone-languages, in which lexical tones are used to convey meaning, identified words present in chimera stimuli containing conflicting pitch-cues in the temporal fine-structure and temporal envelope, and which therefore conveyed two distinct utterances. Amusics were found to be more likely than controls to judge the word according to the envelope pitch-cues. This demonstrates that amusia is not associated with fine-grained pitch judgements alone, and is consistent with there being two distinct pitch mechanisms and with amusics having an atypical reliance on a secondary mechanism based upon envelope cues.


Amusia; Pitch mechanism; Pitch perception; Temporal envelope; Temporal fine-structure; Tone-language

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