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The Impact of Musicianship on the Cortical Mechanisms Related to Separating Speech from Background Noise
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2015) 27 (5): 1044–1059.
Published: 01 May 2015
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AbstractView article PDF
Musicians have enhanced auditory processing abilities. In some studies, these abilities are paralleled by an improved understanding of speech in noisy environments, partially due to more robust encoding of speech signals in noise at the level of the brainstem. Little is known about the impact of musicianship on attention-dependent cortical activity related to lexical access during a speech-in-noise task. To address this issue, we presented musicians and nonmusicians with single words mixed with three levels of background noise, across two conditions, while monitoring electrical brain activity. In the active condition, listeners repeated the words aloud, and in the passive condition, they ignored the words and watched a silent film. When background noise was most intense, musicians repeated more words correctly compared with nonmusicians. Auditory evoked responses were attenuated and delayed with the addition of background noise. In musicians, P1 amplitude was marginally enhanced during active listening and was related to task performance in the most difficult listening condition. By comparing ERPs from the active and passive conditions, we isolated an N400 related to lexical access. The amplitude of the N400 was not influenced by the level of background noise in musicians, whereas N400 amplitude increased with the level of background noise in nonmusicians. In nonmusicians, the increase in N400 amplitude was related to a reduction in task performance. In musicians only, there was a rightward shift of the sources contributing to the N400 as the level of background noise increased. This pattern of results supports the hypothesis that encoding of speech in noise is more robust in musicians and suggests that this facilitates lexical access. Moreover, the shift in sources suggests that musicians, to a greater extent than nonmusicians, may increasingly rely on acoustic cues to understand speech in noise.
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2010) 22 (12): 2716–2727.
Published: 01 December 2010
AbstractView article PDF
Our surrounding auditory environment has a dramatic influence on the development of basic auditory and cognitive skills, but little is known about how it influences the recovery of these skills after neural damage. Here, we studied the long-term effects of daily music and speech listening on auditory sensory memory after middle cerebral artery (MCA) stroke. In the acute recovery phase, 60 patients who had middle cerebral artery stroke were randomly assigned to a music listening group, an audio book listening group, or a control group. Auditory sensory memory, as indexed by the magnetic MMN (MMNm) response to changes in sound frequency and duration, was measured 1 week (baseline), 3 months, and 6 months after the stroke with whole-head magnetoencephalography recordings. Fifty-four patients completed the study. Results showed that the amplitude of the frequency MMNm increased significantly more in both music and audio book groups than in the control group during the 6-month poststroke period. In contrast, the duration MMNm amplitude increased more in the audio book group than in the other groups. Moreover, changes in the frequency MMNm amplitude correlated significantly with the behavioral improvement of verbal memory and focused attention induced by music listening. These findings demonstrate that merely listening to music and speech after neural damage can induce long-term plastic changes in early sensory processing, which, in turn, may facilitate the recovery of higher cognitive functions. The neural mechanisms potentially underlying this effect are discussed.
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2003) 15 (2): 226–235.
Published: 15 February 2003
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Past research has shown a superiority of participants with high-functioning autism over comparison groups in memorizing picture-pitch associations and in detecting pitch changes in melodies. A subset of individuals with autism, known as “musical savants,” is also known to possess absolute pitch. This superiority might be due to an abnormally high sensitivity to fine-grained pitch differences in sounds. To test this hypothesis, psychoacoustic tasks were devised so as to use a signal detection methodology. Participants were all musically untrained and were divided into a group of 12 high-functioning individuals with autism and a group of 12 normally developing individuals. Their task was to judge the pitch of pure tones in a “same-different” discrimination task and in a “high-low” categorization task. In both tasks, the obtained psychometric functions revealed higher pitch sensitivity for subjects with autism, with a more pronounced advantage over control participants in the categorization task. These findings confirm that pitch processing is enhanced in “high-functioning” autism. Superior performance in pitch discrimination and categorization extends previous findings of enhanced visual performance to the auditory domain. Thus, and as predicted by the enhanced perceptual functioning model for peaks of ability in autism (Mottron & Burack, 2001), autistic individuals outperform typically developing population in a variety of low-level perceptual tasks.
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (1996) 8 (6): 481–496.
Published: 01 November 1996
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A follow-up study of a patient, C.N., with a severe auditory agnosia limited to music is reported. After bilateral temporal lobe damage, C.N., whose cognitive and speech functions are otherwise normal, is totally unable to identify or to experience a sense of familiarity with musical excerpts that were once highly familiar to her. However, she can recognize the lyrics that usually accompany the songs. She can also identify familiar sounds, such as animal cries. Thus, her agnosia appears highly specific to music. The functional nature of her deficit has been investigated through various perceptual tasks. She was initially severely impaired in processing pitch sequential structure but has always enjoyed normal processing of temporal structure. This selective disturbance for sequential pitch information can hardly account for her tune agnosia since processing of pitch variations has dramatically improved over the years. This recovery was not accompanied by any signs of improvement in music recognition, which remains extremely poor. Moreover, the fact that she has never been able to hum tunes from memory argues for a basic memory disturbance. Thus, she was tested here with a series of tests aiming at assessing her memory for familiar and unfamiliar music. The results show that C.N. has now recovered most perceptual skills and that despite a transient ability to exhibit knowledge of familiar music under restricted circumstances, she is markedly impaired at naming a tune and at judging its familiarity, as well as at memorizing familiar as well as novel music. This deficit was found to be not only modality-specific but music-specific as well. The findings suggest the existence of a perceptual memory that is specialized for music and that can be selectively damaged so as to prevent most forms of recognition ability.