The world of science has been plentiful recently with its analysis of music in relation to everyday life.
A variety of different findings in relation to music have come to light in the last few weeks, including revealing a list of the world’s most annoying sounds, that some songs are better than sex, and how singing in the car makes you a bad driver; and the latest scientific study shows that tone deaf people may tell us more about music and language’s origins than we first thought.
No, we’re not blowing our own horn – rather, referring to those who literally have trouble identifying tone and pitch, with the latest findings from research conduct by a Sydney team that focussed on ‘tone deaf’ people suggests that music and language are related in more ways than just lyrical prose.
The research has found that many of the same cognitive functions used to identify tone of voice are also evident in our musical ability. Ultimately, the study backs up Charles Darwin’s idea that music and language evolved from the same emotional “musical protolanguage”.[do action=”pullquote”]”In all speech there is a musical quality that is created by differences in the timing, pitch and loudness of the speaker.[/do]
Sound like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo? According to ABC reports, the strongest link between music and language is that they both involve emotional communication through changes in pitch. This means that those who struggle with perceptions of pitch in music often misinterpret tone of voice, which can lead to the misreading of emotions.
Therefore, this could mean that those we perceive as daft and insensitive may actually have a valid excuse for their behaviour.
“In all speech there is a musical quality that is created by differences in the timing, pitch and loudness of the speaker. Tone of voice can be used to differentiate a statement from a question, or a sad expression from fearful,” said Professor Bill Thompson of Macquarie University. “Amusic individuals have trouble hearing subtle differences in the timing, pitch and loudness of the speaker … so often find it hard understanding the emotional tenor of a conversation,”
Adding that: “We all know people who have difficulty perceiving tone of voice. They just don’t get it when we’re being ironic. They don’t get it when we’re irritated. It just goes over their head.”
In order to investigate the relationship between music and language, Professor Thompson conducted research using ‘tone deaf’ (more technically referred to as ‘congential amusia’) participants and a control group who had no limitations in their perceptions of pitch.[do action=”pullquote-2″]We all know people who have difficulty perceiving tone of voice. They just don’t get it… It just goes over their head.”[/do]
The two groups involved listened to 96 spoken phrases with varying ‘emotional prosody’ (a fancy way of describing emotional communication through changes in pitch). They were then asked to identify whether the tone of voice communicated happiness, tenderness, fear, irritation, sadness or no emotion. As predicted, those who experienced congential amusia were 20 per cent less likely, in some cases, to identify the emotion, compared with the control group.
“People with congenital amusia have difficulty perceiving emotion from tone of voice,” lead researcher Thompson concluded. “When pitch was important they had difficulty, and confused the emotions.”
These findings would suggest that those with excellent musical ability are more emotionally intelligent than those without, right? Not necessarily.
Musical prodigies should hold out on getting too smug. Those with congential amusia tend to develop other skills in areas relating to emotional perceptions. Heightened sensitivity in other cognitive areas, including the ability to read body language, assists in compensating for a lack of tonal awareness.
Up to 17% of people suspect they are ‘tone deaf’, although in actuality the prevalence of the disorder is thought to be much lower.
Nevertheless, those in relationships may find these latest reports the most helpful. Next time your partner exudes frustration over your lack of sensitivity it might just be time to get a lesson in music, or alternatively, you could just turn to Tone Deaf.Write a Letter to the Editor