Researchers ID brain patterns of tone deafness

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: January 26th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Barry Manilow never did write the songs that make the WHOLE world sing. Some people are tone-deaf and can’t carry a tune to save their life.

People who are tone-deaf can’t tell one note from another. Tone deafness is technically known as amusia, although the problem is anything but amusing. Tone deafness is usually the result of physical damage like a brain injury or a problem with the ear. It also can be congenital and present from birth.

New research, though, reveals the first objective measurement of brain deficits in congenital tone deafness. The findings may have implications both for tone deafness and for speech learning disabilities.

Collaborating researchers from the universities of Montreal and Helsinki assessed brain cell responses to tones across different brain areas. They used the E-E-G brain-wave test to detect abnormalities in the electrical activity of the brain.

Compared with a control group, people with congenital tone-deafness had abnormal brain activity in the right half of the brain, which is consistent with other recent findings.

It may be possible to compensate for amusia by training pitch discrimination abilities, but it’ll most likely work in children whose brains are still developing. Improvement in adults is seldom seen.

The scientists say their findings should contribute to a better understanding of the neural causes of not only congenital tone deafness, but of some learning disorders, as well.

Then, maybe everybody’s ears will be alive with the sound of music.