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Talker processing deficit in congenital amusia (Shao et al., 2020)

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journal contribution
posted on 28.04.2020 by Jing Shao, Lan Wang, Caicai Zhang
Purpose: The ability to recognize individuals from their vocalizations is an important trait of human beings. In the current study, we aimed to examine how congenital amusia, an inborn pitch-processing disorder, affects discrimination and identification of talkers’ voices.
Method: Twenty Mandarin-speaking amusics and 20 controls were tested on talker discrimination and identification in four types of contexts that varied in the degree of language familiarity: Mandarin real words, Mandarin pseudowords, Arabic words, and reversed Mandarin speech.
Results: The language familiarity effect was more evident in the talker identification task than the discrimination task for both participant groups, and talker identification accuracy decreased as native phonological representations were removed from the stimuli. Importantly, amusics demonstrated degraded performance in both native speech conditions that contained phonological/linguistic information to facilitate talker identification and nonnative conditions where talker voice processing primarily relied on phonetics cues, including pitch. Moreover, the performance in talker processing can be predicted by the participants’ musical ability and phonological memory capacity.
Conclusions: The results provided a first set of behavioral evidence that individuals with amusia are impaired in the ability of human voice identification. Meanwhile, it is found that amusia is not only a pitch disorder but is likely to affect the phonological processing of speech, in terms of using phonological information in native speech to analyze a talker’s identity. The above findings expanded the understanding of the nature and scope of congenital amusia.

Supplemental Material S1. Detailed geographic backgrounds of the six talkers and 40 listeners.

Shao, J., Wang, L., & Zhang, C. (2020). Talker processing in Mandarin-speaking congenital amusics. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_JSLHR-19-00209

Funding

This work was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC 11504400), the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong (ECS 25603916), and the PolyU Start-up Fund for New Recruits to Dr. Caicai Zhang, and Shenzhen Fundamental Research Program (JCYJ20160429184226930 to Dr. Lan Wang and JCYJ20170413161611534 to Dr. Nan Yan).

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