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Congenital amusia and executive functioning

Nathalie Gosselin (University of Montreal; International Laboratory of Brain, Music, and Sound Research -BRAMS; Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music – CRBLM), Ellen Bialystok (York University), Mihaela Felezeu (BRAMS), & Isabelle Peretz (University of Montreal; BRAMS; CRBLM)


Executive functioning, Stroop, Congenital amusia, Musical experience

Congenital amusia is a life-long musical disorder that cannot be explained by mental retardation, deafness or lack of exposure [1]. Amusic individuals tend to listen and enjoy musical activities less than the normal population does. As a consequence, amusics may show impairments in general cognitive functioning. Indeed, there is increasing evidence that musical experience enhances cognitive functions in general [2], not just musical abilities.

Here, we explore whether the limited and abnormal musical experience of amusic adults leads to diminished executive functioning. To this end, amusic individuals and matched non-amusics with and without musical training first completed executive and control conditions in the visual domain, in a situation referred to as the Simon arrows task [3]. As expected, musicians were faster than both amusics and nonmusicians. However, this difference in speed of processing was not associated to different sensitivity to conflict.

The amusic adults were also tested with the Stroop task. The cognitive control condition (ex. the word GREEN written in red ink) and the control conditions (color naming and reading) were all performed within the normal range. They performed within the normal range in the cognitive control condition.

Thus, these findings rule out a general executive impairment as a source of musical difficulties in congenital amusia.



[1] Peretz, I. The biological foundations of music: Insights from congenital amusia. The Psychology of Music. Ed D Deutch, Elsevier. 551-564, 2013.

[2] Moreno S et al. Short-Term music training enhances verbal intelligence and executive function. Psychological Science, 22, 1425-1433, 2011.

[3] Bialystok E & DePape AM. Musical expertise, bilingualism, and executive functioning. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 35, 565-574, 2009.