Tunes and Tones: Music, Language, and Inhibitory Control

In: Journal of Cognition and Culture
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  • 1 Southern Illinois University CarbondaleILUSA
  • | 2 Southern Illinois University CarbondaleILUSA
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A debate is underway regarding the perceptual and cognitive benefits of bilingualism and musical experience. This study contributes to the debate by investigating auditory inhibitory control in English-speaking monolingual musicians, non-musicians, tone language bilinguals, and non-tone language bilinguals. We predicted that musicians and tone language bilinguals would demonstrate enhanced processing relative to monolinguals and other bilinguals. Groups of monolinguals (N = 22), monolingual musicians (N = 19), non-tone language bilinguals (N = 20) and tone language bilinguals (N = 18) were compared on auditory Stroop tasks to assess domain-transferable processing benefits (e.g. auditory inhibitory control) resulting from potentially shared underlying cognitive mechanisms (Patel, 2003; Bialystok & DePape, 2009). In one task, participants heard the words “high” and “low” presented in high or low pitches, and responded regarding the pitch of the stimuli as quickly as possible. In another task, participants heard the words “rise” or “fall” presented in rising or falling pitch contours, and responded regarding the contour of the stimuli as quickly as possible. Results suggest transferable auditory inhibitory control benefits for musicians across pitch and contour processing, but any possible enhanced processing for speakers of tone languages may be task-dependent, as lexical tone activation may interfere with pitch contour processing.

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