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.
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.
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.
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