Talker processing in Mandarin-speaking congenital amusics

Jing Shao, Lan Wang, Caicai Zhang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The ability to recognize individuals from their vocalizations is an important trait of human beings. In the current study, we aimed to examine how congenital amusia, an inborn pitch-processing disorder, affects discrimination and identification of talkers’ voices. Method: Twenty Mandarin-speaking amusics and 20 controls were tested on talker discrimination and identification in four types of contexts that varied in the degree of language familiarity: Mandarin real words, Mandarin pseudowords, Arabic words, and reversed Mandarin speech. Results: The language familiarity effect was more evident in the talker identification task than the discrimination task for both participant groups, and talker identification accuracy decreased as native phonological representations were removed from the stimuli. Importantly, amusics demonstrated degraded performance in both native speech conditions that contained phonological/linguistic information to facilitate talker identification and nonnative conditions where talker voice processing primarily relied on phonetics cues, including pitch. Moreover, the performance in talker processing can be predicted by the participants’ musical ability and phonological memory capacity. Conclusions: The results provided a first set of behavioral evidence that individuals with amusia are impaired in the ability of human voice identification. Meanwhile, it is found that amusia is not only a pitch disorder but is likely to affect the phonological processing of speech, in terms of using phonological information in native speech to analyze a talker’s identity. The above findings expanded the understanding of the nature and scope of congenital amusia. Supplemental Material: 12170379.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1361-1375
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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