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Exploring perception, learning and memory in a prodigious musical savant through comparison with other savants and ‘neurotypical’ musicians with absolute pitch

Mazzeschi, Annamaria (2015) Exploring perception, learning and memory in a prodigious musical savant through comparison with other savants and ‘neurotypical’ musicians with absolute pitch. PhD thesis, UCL Institute of Education.

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Abstract

This research contributes to the scarce literature on the perceptual and cognitive abilities of musical savants. It focuses on one prodigious savant, comparing his abilities with those of other savants and ‘neurotypical’ musicians with absolute pitch. Three experiments are reported. The first comprises a chordal disaggregation task, in which 6 savants and 17 ‘neurotypical’ musicians, had to replicate the stimuli listened. While the savants as a whole outperformed the ‘neurotypical’ musicians, there was some overlap. The most successful participants (savant and some ‘neurotypical’) appeared to use a ‘bottom up’ strategy, whereby the lowest notes were reproduced most successfully. This suggests that savants and some ‘neurotypical’ musicians process chords similarly. The second experiment explored the capacity of the savant to learn and recall a novel piece of music through exposure one bar at a time. The results show that the savant found this conventional approach to learning more difficult than a comparable task, in which exposure to a different though structurally similar piece was only ever as a whole. This finding contributes to the debate on ‘weak central coherence’ that appears to be a feature of the cognitive style of people on the autism spectrum. The third experiment investigates whether and in what ways the prodigious savant’s capacity to process and remember auditory material may be domainHspecific, by comparing his ability to learn and recall a verbal stimulus with an isomorphic musical one. The prodigious savant found the text, which was shorter and less complex than the music, to be very difficult to memorise. However, another savant performed on the task better than one ‘neurotypical’ musician, and worse than another. This finding indicates that savants do not form an entirely homogeneous group with regard to cognitive abilities, and, in the case of the prodigious savant, adds to the debate on the potential modularity of intelligence.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Subjects: Departments > Culture, Communication and Media
Depositing User: Mr Julian Zerfahs
Date Deposited: 02 May 2015 12:26
Last Modified: 02 May 2015 12:53
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