Friday, November 23, 2012

Musical protolanguage hypothesis - support from congenital amusia.

Fascinating work from Thompson et al. (open access), suggesting that sensitivity to emotion in speech prosody derives from our capacity to process music, supporting the idea of an evolutionary link between musical and language domains in the brain.:

A number of evolutionary theories assume that music and language have a common origin as an emotional protolanguage that remains evident in overlapping functions and shared neural circuitry. The most basic prediction of this hypothesis is that sensitivity to emotion in speech prosody derives from the capacity to process music. We examined sensitivity to emotion in speech prosody in a sample of individuals with congenital amusia, a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in processing acoustic and structural attributes of music. Twelve individuals with congenital amusia and 12 matched control participants judged the emotional expressions of 96 spoken phrases. Phrases were semantically neutral but prosodic cues (tone of voice) communicated each of six emotional states: happy, tender, afraid, irritated, sad, and no emotion. Congenitally amusic individuals were significantly worse than matched controls at decoding emotional prosody, with decoding rates for some emotions up to 20% lower than that of matched controls. They also reported difficulty understanding emotional prosody in their daily lives, suggesting some awareness of this deficit. The findings support speculations that music and language share mechanisms that trigger emotional responses to acoustic attributes, as predicted by theories that propose a common evolutionary link between these domains.

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