, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 110-125
Date: 27 Jun 2012

Musicianship Boosts Perceptual Learning of Pseudoword-Chimeras: An Electrophysiological Approach

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Abstract

A vast amount of previous work has consistently revealed that professional music training is associated with functional and structural alterations of auditory-related brain regions. Meanwhile, there is also an increasing array of evidence, which shows that musicianship facilitates segmental, as well as supra-segmental aspects of speech processing. Based on this evidence, we addressed a novel research question, namely whether professional music training has an influence on the perceptual learning of speech sounds. In the context of an EEG experiment, we presented auditory pseudoword-chimeras, manipulated in terms of spectral- or envelope-related acoustic information, to a group of professional musicians and non-musicians. During EEG measurements, participants were requested to assign the auditory-presented pseudoword-chimeras to one out of four visually presented templates. As expected, both groups showed behavioural learning effects during the time course of the experiment. These learning effects were associated with an increase in accuracy, a decrease in reaction time, as well as a decrease in the P2-like microstate duration in both groups. Notably, the musicians showed an increased learning performance compared to the controls during the first two runs of the spectral condition. This perceptual learning effect, which varies as a function of musical expertise, was reflected by a reduction of the P2-like microstate duration. Results may mirror transfer effects from musical training to the processing of spectral information in speech sounds. Hence, this study provides first evidence for a relationship between changes in microstates, musical expertise, and perceptual verbal learning mechanisms.