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Amusia and protolanguage impairments in schizophrenia

  • J. T. Kantrowitz (a1) (a2), N. Scaramello (a1), A. Jakubovitz (a1), J. M. Lehrfeld (a1), P. Laukka (a3), H. A. Elfenbein (a4), G. Silipo (a1) and D. C. Javitt (a1) (a2)...

Both language and music are thought to have evolved from a musical protolanguage that communicated social information, including emotion. Individuals with perceptual music disorders (amusia) show deficits in auditory emotion recognition (AER). Although auditory perceptual deficits have been studied in schizophrenia, their relationship with musical/protolinguistic competence has not previously been assessed.


Musical ability was assessed in 31 schizophrenia/schizo-affective patients and 44 healthy controls using the Montreal Battery for Evaluation of Amusia (MBEA). AER was assessed using a novel battery in which actors provided portrayals of five separate emotions. The Disorganization factor of the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) was used as a proxy for language/thought disorder and the MATRICS Consensus Cognitive Battery (MCCB) was used to assess cognition.


Highly significant deficits were seen between patients and controls across auditory tasks (p < 0.001). Moreover, significant differences were seen in AER between the amusia and intact music-perceiving groups, which remained significant after controlling for group status and education. Correlations with AER were specific to the melody domain, and correlations between protolanguage (melody domain) and language were independent of overall cognition.


This is the first study to document a specific relationship between amusia, AER and thought disorder, suggesting a shared linguistic/protolinguistic impairment. Once amusia was considered, other cognitive factors were no longer significant predictors of AER, suggesting that musical ability in general and melodic discrimination ability in particular may be crucial targets for treatment development and cognitive remediation in schizophrenia.

Corresponding author
* Address for correspondence: J. T. Kantrowitz, M.D., Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, 140 Old Orangeburg Road, Orangeburg, NY 10962, USA. (Email:
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