Musical expertise and foreign speech perception


  • Martínez-Montes Eduardo
  • Hernández-Pérez Heivet
  • Chobert Julie
  • Morgado-Rodríguez Lisbet
  • Suárez-Murias Carlos
  • Valdés-Sosa Pedro A.
  • Besson Mireille R


  • Musical expertise
  • Auditory perception
  • Speech perception
  • Foreign language
  • Pitch
  • Duration
  • Voice Onset Time
  • Mismatch Negativity

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The aim of this experiment was to investigate the influence of musical expertise on the automatic perception of foreign syllables and harmonic sounds. Participants were Cuban students with high level of expertise in music or in visual arts and with the same level of general education and socioeconomic background. We used a multi-feature Mismatch Negativity (MMN) design with sequences of either syllables in Mandarin Chinese or harmonic sounds, both comprising deviants in pitch contour, duration and Voice Onset Time (VOT) or equivalent that were either far from (Large deviants) or close to (Small deviants) the standard. For both Mandarin syllables and harmonic sounds, results were clear-cut in showing larger MMNs to pitch contour deviants in musicians than in visual artists. Results were less clear for duration and VOT deviants, possibly because of the specific characteristics of the stimuli. Results are interpreted as reflecting similar processing of pitch contour in speech and non-speech sounds. The implications of these results for understanding the influence of intense musical training from childhood to adulthood and of genetic predispositions for music on foreign language perception are discussed.

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