Congenital blindness enhances perception of musical rhythm more than melody in Mandarin speakers

J Acoust Soc Am. 2019 May;145(5):EL354. doi: 10.1121/1.5100899.


This study adopted the Musical Ear Test [Wallentin, Nielsen, Friis-Olivarius, Vuust, and Vuust (2010). Learn. Indiv. Diff. 20, 188-196] to compare musical competence of sighted and congenitally blind Mandarin speakers. On the rhythm subtest, the blind participants outperformed the sighted. On the melody subtest, however, the two groups performed equally well. Compared with sighted speakers of non-tonal languages reported in previous studies [Wallentin, Nielsen, Friis-Olivarius, Vuust, and Vuust (2010). Learn. Indiv. Diff. 20, 188-196; Bhatara, Yeung, and Nazzi (2015). J. Exp. Psychol. Hum. Percept. Perform. 41(2), 277-282], sighted Mandarin speakers performed better only on the melody subtest. These results indicate that tonal language experience and congenital blindness exert differential influences on musical aptitudes with rhythm perception reflecting a cross-modal compensation effect and melody perception dominated by a cross-domain language-to-music transfer effect.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aptitude / physiology
  • Asian People
  • Blindness / congenital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Music
  • Pitch Perception / physiology*
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult