Australian Study: Tone-Deaf People Can’t Hear Emotion In Speech Either

A study by researchers at Macquarie University in Sydney has found that people with congenital amusia — tone deafness — also have a harder time deciphering emotional cues in speech. That’s right; if you don’t get Bach, you probably don’t get your barista.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, took 12 subjects with congenital amusia and 12 subjects with normal hearing. They were each presented with 96 spoken phrases — without physical cues like facial expressions — and asked to determine if the phrase was happy, tender, afraid, irritated, sad or neutral.

The tone-deaf subjects scored 20 per cent lower than their counterparts with regular hearing. But that doesn’t mean these people are destined for a life full of miscommunication. According to the researchers, people who can’t hear tones compensate by perceiving emotion from other cues. Middle fingers (and their international equivalents) are pretty universally understood. [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences via Geekosystem and ABC Science]

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