Mathias, B., Lidji, P., Honing, H., Palmer, C., & Peretz, I. (2016). Electrical brain responses to beat irregularities in two cases of beat deafness. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 10:40. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2016.00040.

Beat deafness, a recently documented form of congenital amusia, provides a unique window into functional specialization of neural circuitry for the processing of musical stimuli: Beat-deaf individuals exhibit deficits that are specific to the detection of a regular beat in music and the ability to move along with a beat. Studies on the neural underpinnings of beat processing in the general population suggest that the auditory system is capable of pre-attentively generating a predictive model of upcoming sounds in a rhythmic pattern, subserved largely within auditory cortex and reflected in mismatch negativity (MMN) and P3 event-related potential (ERP) components. The current study examined these neural correlates of beat perception in two beat-deaf individuals, Mathieu and Marjorie, and a group of control participants under conditions in which auditory stimuli were either attended or ignored. Compared to control participants, Mathieu demonstrated reduced behavioral sensitivity to beat omissions in metrical patterns, and Marjorie showed a bias to identify irregular patterns as regular. ERP responses to beat omissions reveal an intact pre-attentive system for processing beat irregularities in cases of beat deafness, reflected in the MMN component, and provide partial support for abnormalities in later cognitive stages of beat processing, reflected in an unreliable P3b component exhibited by Mathieu—but not Marjorie—compared to control participants. P3 abnormalities observed in the current study resemble P3 abnormalities exhibited by individuals with pitch-based amusia, and are consistent with attention or auditory-motor coupling accounts of deficits in beat perception.

Full paper (Frontiers).