Research Study

A Cross-sectional Analysis of Musical Ability in Patients With Refractory Schizophrenia
Principal Investigator 
Alasdair Barr


Body Locations and Systems 
Disorders and Conditions 
Study Start/End 
Apr 23, 2015 to Jan 31, 2018
Vancouver General Hospital
Delrae Fawcett, Research Assistant
Email Address
Purpose of Study 

The perception of music requires coordinated neural activities in distributed multi-functional centers across both hemispheres. The association between musical abilities and other general cognitive functions have been studied in several populations with inconsistent results.

Schizophrenia is a major mental disorder that is strongly associated with cognitive deficits. These often appear before the onset of psychotic symptoms and persist throughout effective treatment of positive and negative symptoms. Like other disorders of psychosis, schizophrenia features general deficits in auditory memory and sensory processing. Recently, Sawada et al. (2014) and Wen et al. (2014) studied music abilities in Japanese and Chinese schizophrenic populations. They both used a standardized assessment for amusia called Montreal Battery of Evaluation of Amusia (MBEA) and found marked impairments in perception of scale, contour, interval, rhythm, meter and memory. Both studies showed that deficits in music perception were associated with cognitive deficits and negative symptoms. In regards to positive symptoms, Wen et al., but not Sawada et al., found a significant association.

The present clinical study will assess musical abilities using the MBEA in a Canadian population with and without refractory psychosis. It will explore associations between musical deficits, positive and negative psychiatric symptomology and cognition. The patient population will have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, affective disorder with psychosis or non substance-related psychosis who were referred to the British Columbia Psychosis Program (BCPP) due to inadequate or no response to at least two trials of antipsychotics. A focus on refractory psychosis may provide greater insights because these patients have relatively more pronounced psychiatric symptoms and cognitive deficits. It will also be valuable to administer the MBEA assessment on a Canadian population, because the test was originally intended for Western populations and its musical phrases were designed with Western tonalities.

Recruitment poster


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