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A man lost in musical time

Researchers document the first case of ‘beat deafness’

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1:28pm, March 4, 2011

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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 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.

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