A man oblivious
to music’s tempo
Researchers document the
first case of ‘beat deafness’
By Bruce Bower
The Go-Go’s had a 1982 hit record with
“ We Got the Beat,” but a 23-year-old man
named Mathieu never got their message.
Researchers have identified Mathieu as
the first documented case of beat deafness, a condition in which a person can’t
feel music’s beat or move in time to it.
Mathieu flails in a time zone of his
own when bouncing up and down to a
Fraction of Toronto rave
attendees who report
melody, unlike people who don’t dance
particularly well but generally move
in sync with a musical beat, according
to a team led by psychologists Jessica
Phillips-Silver and Isabelle Peretz, both
of the University of Montreal. What’s
more, Mathieu usually fails to recognize
when someone else dances out of sync to
a tune, the researchers report in a paper
that will appear in Neuropsychologia.
“We suspect that beat deafness is
specific to music and is quite rare,”
Mathieu sings in tune and recognizes
familiar melodies, so musical pitch
doesn’t elude him. Hearing and motor
areas of Mathieu’s brain appear to be
healthy, the researchers add.
Fraction of Canadian high
school students who report
Language lacks the periodic rhythms
found in music, so it’s unlikely that
Mathieu’s problem affects speech perception, remarks cognitive scientist Josh
McDermott of New York University.
Mathieu and 33 adults who had no
musical timing problems were told to
bounce with their knees to a popular
merengue song — “Suavemente” by Elvis
Crespo. Mathieu and 10 other participants then bounced to eight additional
musical excerpts from a variety of genres.
Mathieu consistently bounced out
of sync to various musical tempos. He
could imitate an experimenter who
stood next to him and bounced in time
to a merengue tune, but when left to his
own devices he lost the beat.
Club drug is out-of-body experience
Ketamine could be used in research on sensory integration
By Bruce Bower
A popular “club drug” promises to open a
scientific window on the strange world of
out-of-body experiences, researchers say.
Recreational users of a substance
called ketamine often report having felt
like they left their bodies or underwent
other bizarre physical transformations,
according to an online survey conducted
by psychologist Todd Girard of Ryerson
University in Toronto and his colleagues.
Ketamine, an anesthetic known to
interfere with memory and cause feelings
of detachment from one’s self or body,
reduces transmission of the brain chemical glutamate through a particular class of
molecular gateways. Glutamate generally
jacks up brain activity. Ketamine stimulates sensations of illusory movement or
leaving one’s body by cutting glutamate’s
ability to energize certain brain areas, the
researchers propose online February 15
in Consciousness and Cognition.
“Ketamine may disrupt patterns
of brain activation that coalesce to
represent an integrated body and self,
leading to out-of-body experiences,”
March 26, 2011 | science news | 9