Friday, September 14, 2012

A case of congenital beat deafness? [revisited]

Mathieu, apparently lacking a sense of beat.
Isabelle Peretz, co-director of the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research (BRAMS), told me about Mathieu during a workshop at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in November 2009. She was very excited, and was pretty sure she found a 'beat-deaf' person. I couldn’t but share her enthusiasm. In Phillips-Silver et al. (2011) Peretz and her team wrote:
'Mathieu was discovered through a recruitment of subjects who felt they could not keep the beat in music, such as in clapping in time at a concert or dancing in a club. Mathieu was the only clear-cut case among volunteers who reported these problems. Despite a lifelong love of music and dancing, and musical training including lessons over several years in various instruments, voice, dance and choreography, Mathieu complained that he was unable to find the beat in music. Participation in music and dance activities, while pleasurable, had been difficult for him.'
About one year later her group published a journal paper presenting some behavioral evidence that Mathieu was a case of congenital beat deafness.

The questions posted in a blog entry just after the publication of that study resulted in a collaboration in which, next to behavioral, also direct electrophysiological methods were used. Pascale Lidji (also associated with BRAMS) initiated an EEG/ERP experiment, modeled after our earlier Amsterdam experiments, to directly probe Mathieu’s apparent beat-deafness.

Last winter, just a few weeks after the experiments, we had a teleconference discussing the first experimental results (filmed by a Dutch TV crew following our work). The first results suggested that Mathieu’s brain did pick-up the beat, but his conscious perception did not, as several behavioral experiments confirmed. Intriguing, to say the least. And the results will hopefully be published later this year.

See below for some fragments from the teleconference:

For more the documentary De man zonder ritme, see the website of NPO3.

ResearchBlogging.orgPhillips-Silver, J., Toiviainen, P., Gosselin, N., Piché, O., Nozaradan, S., Palmer, C., & Peretz, I. (2011). Born to dance but beat deaf: A new form of congenital amusia Neuropsychologia DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.02.002

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