While most normal hearing individuals can readily use prosodic information in spoken language to interpret the moods and feelings of conversational partners, people with congenital amusia report that they often rely more on facial expressions and gestures, a strategy that may compensate for deficits in auditory processing. In this investigation, we used EEG to examine the extent to which individuals with congenital amusia draw upon visual information when making auditory or audio-visual judgments. Event-related potentials (ERP) were elicited by a change in pitch (up or down) between two sequential tones paired with a change in spatial position (up or down) between two visually presented dots. The change in dot position was either congruent or incongruent with the change in pitch. Participants were asked to judge (1) the direction of pitch change while ignoring the visual information (AV implicit task), and (2) whether the auditory and visual changes were congruent (AV explicit task). In the AV implicit task, amusic participants performed significantly worse in the incongruent condition than control participants. ERPs showed an enhanced N2-P3 response to incongruent AV pairings for control participants, but not for amusic participants. However when participants were explicitly directed to detect AV congruency, both groups exhibited enhanced N2-P3 responses to incongruent AV pairings. These findings indicate that amusics are capable of extracting information from both modalities in an AV task, but are biased to rely on visual information when it is available, presumably because they have learned that auditory information is unreliable. We conclude that amusic individuals implicitly draw upon visual information when judging auditory information, even though they have the capacity to explicitly recognize conflicts between these two sensory channels.
- Congenital amusia
- Music perception