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Open Access Research article

Impaired pitch identification as a potential marker for depression

Michael Schwenzer*, Eva Zattarin, Michael Grözinger and Klaus Mathiak

Author Affiliations

Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatic Medicine, RWTH Aachen University, Pauwelsstr. 30, D-52074 Aachen, Germany

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BMC Psychiatry 2012, 12:32  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-12-32

Published: 19 April 2012

Abstract

Background

Impaired auditory performance has been considered as marker for depression. The present study tested whether pitch perception is affected in depression and whether the impairment is task-specific or reflects global dysfunction.

Methods

Twelve depressive in-patients and 12 non-depressive participants, half of the sample women, volunteered. The participants performed pitch identification using a four-choice reaction task, pitch contour perception, and pitch discrimination.

Results

During pitch identification but not during pitch contour perception or pitch discrimination, depressive patients responded less accurate than non-depressive participants (F = 3.3, p = 0.047). An analysis of covariates revealed that only female but not male depressive patients identified pitches poorly (Z = −2.2, p = 0.025) and inaccurate pitch identification correlated with high scores in the Beck Depression Inventory in women (r = −0.8, p = 0.001) but not in men (r = −0.1, p = 0.745). Patients did not differ from controls in reaction time or responsiveness.

Conclusions

Impaired pitch perception in depression is task-specific. Therefore, cognitive deficits in depression are circumscribed and not global. Reduced pitch identification in depression was associated with female sex. We suggest that impaired pitch identification merits attention as a potential marker for depression in women.

Keywords:
Depression; Non-verbal processing; Pitch identification; Motivation; Sex effect