This is the English version of this blog.

Congenital Amusia – What’s that?

Congenital Amusia is a neuro-developmental disorder that has a negative influence on pitch perception (Peretz et al. 2002, Foxton et al. 2004, Stewart 2008). It is not caused by insufficient exposure to music, a hearing deficiency, brain damage or intellectual impairment (e.g., Ayotte et al. 2002). Congenital amusics face lifelong impairments in the musical domain and their symptoms can be so severe that music sounds like ‘banging’ to them (Stewart 2008: 127). Amusics have deficits in fine-grained pitch discrimination, i.e. they cannot detect that two adjacent tones are different in pitch if the difference is one semitone or less (Peretz et al. 2002; Foxton et al. 2004).


A brief Introduction to Amusia Research


Congenital amusia as a research topic is still relatively young and so far only a hand full of people know about it and even fewer people work on it. The first study is from 2001 and coined the term “congenital amusia”. Before that amusia was referred to as “soundblindness”, “tone deafness”, “note deafness” or “dysmelodia” and isolated cases – today seen as anecdotal – were reported in the literature since 1878.


Worldwide, there are only a handful of groups that work on congenital amusia: Research on amusia was established by Dr. Isabelle Peretz and her team at the BRAMS (International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research) at the University of Montreal.  In addition, there is a Group in London (goldsmiths university) centered around Dr. Lauren Stewart and Dr. Victoria Williamson (see her blog here). At the moment, this group focuses on earworms though and not as much on amusia anymore.  There is also a group in France (in Lyon) led by Dr. Barbara Tillmann. And then there is our group, which is situated in Germany (Düsseldorf) and  in the Netherlands (Amsterdam), testing (and of course looking for 😉 German and Dutch amusics.

In addition, some studies were conducted in Boston by Psyche Loui and Gottfried Schlaug. But they have also taken up other research interests by now.

Some studies were also conducted in collaboration with Aniruddh Patel, a biologist from Massachusetts. He was responsible for some of the first studies looking at amusics’ speech perception. And there is also a group of scientists in Shanghai and Bejing looking at the perception of lexical tones in amusic tone language speakers (for more details on that, you have to wait for one of the next blog entries).

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