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Processing acoustic change and novelty in newborn infants

Authors

  • Elena Kushnerenko,

    1. Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, School of Psychology, Birkbeck College, Henry Wellcome Building, London Malet Street, WC1E 7HX, UK
    2. Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Finland
    3. Centre for Developmental Language Disorders and Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Human Communication Sciences, University College London, UK
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    • *

      E.K. and I.W. contributed equally to this work.

  • István Winkler,

    1. Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Finland
    2. Institute for Psychology, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary
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    • *

      E.K. and I.W. contributed equally to this work.

  • János Horváth,

    1. Institute for Psychology, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary
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  • Risto Näätänen,

    1. Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Finland
    2. Helsinki Brain Research Centre, Finland
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  • Ivan Pavlov,

    1. Institute of Neurology, University College London, UK,
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  • Vineta Fellman,

    1. Hospital for Children and Adolescents, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
    2. Department of Pediatrics, Lund University, Sweden,
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  • Minna Huotilainen

    1. Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Finland
    2. Helsinki Brain Research Centre, Finland
    3. Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland
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Dr Elena Kushnerenko, 1Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, as above.
E-mail:e.kushnerenko@bbk.ac.uk

Abstract

Research on event-related potential (ERP) correlates of auditory deviance-detection in newborns provided inconsistent results; temporal and topographic ERP characteristics differed widely across studies and individual infants. Robust and reliable ERP responses were, however, obtained to sounds (termed ‘novel’ sounds), which cover a wide range of frequencies and widely differ from the context provided by a repeating sound [Kushnerenko et al., (2002) NeuroReport, 13, 1843–1848]. The question we investigated here is whether this effect can be attributed to novelty per se or to acoustic characteristics of the ‘novel’ sounds, such as their wide frequency spectrum and high signal energy compared with the repeated tones. We also asked how sensitivity to these stimulus aspects changes with development. Twelve newborns and 11 adults were tested in four different oddball conditions, each including a ‘standard’ sound presented with the probability of 0.8 and two types of infrequent ‘deviant’ sounds (0.1 probability, each). Deviants were (i) ‘novel’ sounds (diverse environmental noises); (ii) white-noise segments, or harmonic tones of (iii) a higher pitch, or (iv) higher intensity. In newborns, white-noise deviants elicited the largest response in all latency ranges, whereas in adults, this phenomenon was not found. Thus, newborns appear to be especially sensitive to sounds having a wide frequency spectrum. On the other hand, the pattern of results found for the late discriminative ERP response indicates that newborns may also be able to detect novelty in acoustic stimulation, although with a longer latency than adults, as shown by the ERP response. Results are discussed in terms of developmental refinement of the initially broadly tuned neonate auditory system.

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