Congenital amusia persists in the developing brain after daily music listening

PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36860. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036860. Epub 2012 May 11.


Congenital amusia is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects about 3% of the adult population. Adults experiencing this musical disorder in the absence of macroscopically visible brain injury are described as cases of congenital amusia under the assumption that the musical deficits have been present from birth. Here, we show that this disorder can be expressed in the developing brain. We found that (10-13 year-old) children exhibit a marked deficit in the detection of fine-grained pitch differences in both musical and acoustical context in comparison to their normally developing peers comparable in age and general intelligence. This behavioral deficit could be traced down to their abnormal P300 brain responses to the detection of subtle pitch changes. The altered pattern of electrical activity does not seem to arise from an anomalous functioning of the auditory cortex, because all early components of the brain potentials, the N100, the MMN, and the P200 appear normal. Rather, the brain and behavioral measures point to disrupted information propagation from the auditory cortex to other cortical regions. Furthermore, the behavioral and neural manifestations of the disorder remained unchanged after 4 weeks of daily musical listening. These results show that congenital amusia can be detected in childhood despite regular musical exposure and normal intellectual functioning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Cortex / growth & development
  • Auditory Cortex / physiopathology
  • Auditory Pathways / physiopathology
  • Auditory Perception
  • Auditory Perceptual Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Auditory Perceptual Disorders / psychology
  • Auditory Perceptual Disorders / therapy*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Music Therapy*
  • Pitch Discrimination
  • Pitch Perception