When subjects correctly identified the higher tone, the pitch difference in subsequent tone pairs decreased; when subjects failed to identify the higher tone, the tones were moved further apart. People with normal auditory plasticity usually get better at discriminating between the two tones as the test progresses, reflecting the ability to learn, said Dr. Kantrowitz. And that was the case with the healthy controls in our study. At the start, there was a 50 percent difference in the pitch of the tones (e.g., 1,000 Hz and 1,500 Hz). On average, the healthy controls were able to discern between tones with a difference in pitch of as little as 3 percent. In contrast, the patients did not improve as much, detecting an average 16 percent difference in pitch. EEG recordings, made while the subjects performed auditory brain exercises, revealed that the schizophrenia patients had lower brainwave activity than the controls. Lower brainwave activity is associated with impaired auditory sensory cortex functioning and a reduced response to the training exercises. Dr. Kantrowitz and his colleagues suspected that schizophrenia patients inability to improve their pitch discrimination is caused by dysfunction in their NMDA receptors, which are critical for learning and memory. If true, improving NMDA activity would improve their ability to discriminate between pitches.
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