Are you a frustrated dancer? Ever feel the urge to dance to the tune of your jam in the middle of the dance floor but end up looking like you have two left feet? Don’t feel too bad about yourself! There are people who go through something worse than you do – individuals who fail to detect the beat and to move in time to music.
Meet Mathieu. He suffers from beat deafness, a new form of congenital amusia related to time and not to pitch. In a study conducted by Phillips-Silver et. al. (2011), the researchers found that humans show a natural capacity to dance – that is, to synchronize their movement to an auditory pulse or beat. However, there are some individuals who reportedly had problems regarding the matter. Despite a lifelong love of music and dancing, and musical training including lessons over several years in various instruments, voice, dance and choreography, Mathieu complained that he was unable to find the beat in music.
To test this, the researchers conducted synchronization and detection tasks where Mathieu’s performance was compared to that of a sample of adults with variable ages and musical background. Synchronization tasks include bouncing or tapping to the beat of “Merengue” or a metronome while detection tasks involved judging whether a dancer was “in time” with an auditory soundtrack.
Results show that despite intact motor and auditory systems, Mathieu is “out of time” when he synchronizes his movements with most music. He cannot detect normally whether someone else is moving in time with the same music. However, these problems appear to be specific to music since Mathieu achieves near-normal synchronization with a pulse provided by an auditory metronome. Furthermore, his pattern of impaired processing of beat structure and preserved processing of melodic structure is what distinguishes it from pitch deafness, a typical congenital amusia.
Looking back at your own experience, you might have trouble in the proper execution of movement but maybe not in synchronization with the beat. So you think you can’t dance? You might want to think again.
Phillips-Silver, J., Toiviainen, P., Gosselin, N., Piche, O., Nozaradan, S., Palmer, C., & Peretz, I. (2011). Born to dance but beat deaf: A new form of congenital amusia. Neuropsychologia, 49, 961-969.