Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Two brain regions join forces for absolute pitch

07.01.2015

People who have “absolute pitch” can identify notes immediately without relying on a reference tone. Intensive research is being conducted into the neuronal basis of this extraordinary ability at the University of Zurich’s Department of Neuropsychology. The researchers have now detected a close functional link between the auditory cortex in the brain and the frontal lobe in these extraordinary people – a discovery that is not only important in theory, but also in practice.

Mozart, Bach and Beethoven are all supposed to have had it: “absolute pitch” – the ability to identify and categorize a note without having to rely on any reference tones. People with absolute pitch perceive a note and can identify it accurately as C sharp, A or F sharp, for instance.

Most other people are only able to distinguish between notes relatively. While, with a prevalence of one percent in the normal population, the remarkable ability is relatively rare, it is observed twenty percent more frequently in professional musicians. It is often suspected that this special hearing skill is a key aspect of extraordinary musical talent.

A team headed by Professor Lutz Jäncke has already been conducting intensive research into this phenomenon in the Music Lab at UZH’s Department of Neuropsychology for many years. In a current study involving musicians with absolute pitch, there is now evidence that, according to first author Stefan Elmer, opens up a new view on the underlying psychological and neurophysiological processes involved in absolute pitch:

“Our study shows how two brain regions, namely the auditory cortex and the dorsal frontal lobe, work together for absolute pitch. In the process, we combine two essentially conflicting explanatory approaches for the phenomenon.”

Two theories on absolute pitch
One explanation assumes that people with absolute pitch already categorize the notes at a very early stage of sound processing. In other words, they process tones in the same way as speech sounds and assign them to particular categories, which is referred to as the categorical perception of tones. This theory assumes that the tones are already processed in the primary and secondary auditory cortex in the brain in people with absolute pitch.

Another theory suggests that people with absolute pitch only process the notes later on and associate them with memory information. People with this gift supposedly master the subconscious allocation of the tones to memory information particularly well. These allocations primarily take place in the upper frontal lobe, in the dorsal frontal cortex. “Therefore, both theories make completely different statements regarding the moment and the anatomical location of the special processing and there is evidence to support both theories,” explains Jäncke.

Connected brain regions explain the phenomenon
In his study, Stefan Elmer is now able to show that functionally the left-hand auditory cortex and the left-hand dorsal frontal cortex are already strongly linked in a dormant state – in other words, when there are no tasks to be performed. This functional coupling could be estimated based on a mathematical technique, which uses surface electroencephalography to extrapolate the brain activity inside the brain. In people with absolute pitch, the neurophysiological activity in the frontal and auditory cortex are synchronized, which suggests a close functional connection.

This means that the brain regions that control early perception functions (auditory cortex) or late memory functions (dorsal frontal cortex) are already tightly interwoven in a dormant state. “This coupling enables an especially efficient exchange of information between the auditory cortex and the dorsal frontal cortex in people with absolute pitch, which means that the perception and memory information can be exchanged quickly and efficiently,” explains Elmer.

Training auditory perception
The results are not only important to understand absolute pitch, but also efficient auditory processing: “Auditory perception doesn’t only depend on the integrity of the auditory cortex, but also especially on the linking of the auditory cortex with superordinate brain structures that process memory information,” sums up Jäncke. Based on these results, it might be possible to develop training measures, which would improve the auditory skills in old age, but also in connection with different hearing impairments.

Literature:
Stefan Elmer, Lars Rogenmoser, Jürg Kühnis und Lutz Jäncke. Bridging the gap between perceptual and cognitive perspectives on absolute pitch. The Journal of Neuroscience, January 6, 2015. Doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3009-14.2015

Contacts:
Prof. Lutz Jäncke
Department of Psychology – Neuropsychology
University of Zurich
Tel.: +41 44 635 74 00
Email: l.jaencke@psychologie.uzh.ch

Bettina Jakob
Media Relations
University of Zurich
Tel.: +41 44 634 44 39
Email: bettina.jakob@kommunikation.uzh.ch

Weitere Informationen:

http://www.mediadesk.uzh.ch

Nathalie Huber | Universität Zürich

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht Sibling differences: Later-borns choose less prestigious programs at university
14.11.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für demografische Forschung

nachricht Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ
09.11.2017 | Vanderbilt University

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>