Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Music and the Brain

The link between human language and our appreciation of music has often been explored, as far back as Darwin and his hypothesis of a musical protolanguage. If, as it has been shown, that music and language share processing locations in the brain, then what is the consequence, if any, of being tune deaf on language ability?
We have previously posted and pondered on the condition, amusia, also known as tune deafness here at the Bayblab. Essentially amusia sufferers have difficulty following pitch changes in music. You have probably heard sufferers of this condition at Karaoke night, and you can take this very interesting test to see if you too are tune deaf and have made others suffer on Karaoke night.
A recent study has found that indeed amusia has consequences for language processing. While the importance of tune in music is obvious, tune is also important to communicate an emotional quality to spoken words. Pitch changes in language can indicate sarcasm, irony, irritation and other emotions that are independent of the words that are spoken. As you might guess, according to this study, it is the interpretation of these emotional tonal cues of language that are deficient in sufferers of congenital amusia. Of course, this doesn't mean that sufferers can not interpret body language or other cues, however the deficit is significant enough that some sufferers are aware of their difficulty in this respect. I have been looking for any information on amusia in people who speak tonal languages as I imagine it would be very debilitating. In any case, next time someone you tell someone how fantastically frequent Bayblab updates have been recently, and they agree, don't let them sing at Karaoke night.