1aMU5. Absolute pitch is associated with a large auditory digit span: A clue to its genesis

Session: Monday Morning, Oct 22


Author: Diana Deutsch
Location: Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0109ddeutsch@ucsd.edu
Author: Kevin Dooley
Location: Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0109ddeutsch@ucsd.edu

Abstract:

Absolute pitch (AP) is very rare in North America and Europe, and its genesis is unclear. Its prevalence is far higher among tone language speakers, and among those with early onset of musical training. However, most nontone language speakers with early and extensive musical training do not possess AP. To test the hypothesis that an unusually large auditory memory is involved in the genesis of AP, at least in nontone language speakers, we recruited 7 AP possessors, and 20 AP nonpossessors. All subjects were primary speakers of English, had begun musical training at ≤ age 6, and were UCSD students or recent graduates. The two groups were matched for age and years of musical experience. All subjects were administered an auditory digit span test, followed by a visual digit span test, with digits presented 1/sec. While the average auditory digit span was 8.1 digits for the AP nonpossessors, it was 10.0 digits for the AP possessors. This difference between the two groups was highly significant (p = 0.0015, 1-tailed). The AP possessors also marginally outperformed the nonpossessors on the visual digit span test; however this difference was nonsignificant. These new findings provide a clue to a genetic component of AP.