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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

September 2007, Vol. 19, No. 9, Pages 1453-1463
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2007.19.9.1453)
© 2007 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Musicians Detect Pitch Violation in a Foreign Language Better Than Nonmusicians: Behavioral and Electrophysiological Evidence
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The aim of this study was to determine whether musical expertise influences the detection of pitch variations in a foreign language that participants did not understand. To this end, French adults, musicians and nonmusicians, were presented with sentences spoken in Portuguese. The final words of the sentences were prosodically congruous (spoken at normal pitch height) or incongruous (pitch was increased by 35% or 120%). Results showed that when the pitch deviations were small and difficult to detect (35%: weak prosodic incongruities), the level of performance was higher for musicians than for nonmusicians. Moreover, analysis of the time course of pitch processing, as revealed by the event-related brain potentials to the prosodically congruous and incongruous sentence-final words, showed that musicians were, on average, 300 msec faster than nonmusicians to categorize prosodically congruous and incongruous endings. These results are in line with previous ones showing that musical expertise, by increasing discrimination of pitch—a basic acoustic parameter equally important for music and speech prosody—does facilitate the processing of pitch variations not only in music but also in language. Finally, comparison with previous results [Schön, D., Magne, C., & Besson, M. The music of speech: Music training facilitates pitch processing in both music and language. Psychophysiology, 41, 341–349, 2004] points to the influence of semantics on the perception of acoustic prosodic cues.