Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The ability to separate concurrent sounds based on periodicity cues is critical for parsing complex auditory scenes. This ability is enhanced in young adult musicians and reduced in older adults. Here, we investigated the impact of lifelong musicianship on concurrent sound segregation and perception using scalp-recorded ERPs. Older and younger musicians and nonmusicians were presented with periodic harmonic complexes where the second harmonic could be tuned or mistuned by 1–16% of its original value. The likelihood of perceiving two simultaneous sounds increased with mistuning, and musicians, both older and younger, were more likely to detect and report hearing two sounds when the second harmonic was mistuned at or above 2%. The perception of a mistuned harmonic as a separate sound was paralleled by an object-related negativity that was larger and earlier in younger musicians compared with the other three groups. When listeners made a judgment about the harmonic stimuli, the perception of the mistuned harmonic as a separate sound was paralleled by a positive wave at about 400 msec poststimulus (P400), which was enhanced in both older and younger musicians. These findings suggest attention-dependent processing of a mistuned harmonic is enhanced in older musicians and provides further evidence that age-related decline in hearing abilities are mitigated by musical training.