Diminished large-scale functional brain networks in absolute pitch during the perception of naturalistic music and audiobooks

Neuroimage. 2020 Aug 1:216:116513. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.116513. Epub 2019 Dec 31.


Previous studies have reported the effects of absolute pitch (AP) and musical proficiency on the functioning of specific brain regions or distinct subnetworks, but they provided an incomplete account of the effects of AP and musical proficiency on whole-brain networks. In this study, we used EEG to estimate source-space whole-brain functional connectivity in a large sample comprising AP musicians (n ​= ​46), relative pitch (RP) musicians (n ​= ​45), and Non-musicians (n ​= ​34) during resting state, naturalistic music listening, and audiobook listening. First, we assessed the global network density of the participants' functional networks in these conditions. As revealed by cluster-based permutation testing, AP musicians showed a decreased mean degree compared to Non-musicians whereas RP musicians showed an intermediate mean degree not statistically different from Non-musicians or AP-musicians. This effect was present during naturalistic music and audiobook listening, but, crucially, not during resting state. Second, we identified the subnetworks that drove group differences in global network density using the network-based statistic approach. We found that AP musicians showed decreased functional connectivity between major hubs of the default mode network during both music and audiobook listening compared to Non-musicians. Third, we assessed group differences in global network topology while controlling for network density. We did not find evidence for group differences in the clustering coefficient and characteristic path length. Taken together, we found first evidence of diminished whole-brain functional networks in AP musicians during the perception of naturalistic auditory stimuli. These differences might reflect a complex interplay between AP ability, musical proficiency, music processing, and auditory processing per se.

Keywords: Auditory; EEG; Functional connectivity; Graph theory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Music / psychology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Pitch Perception / physiology*
  • Reading*
  • Young Adult