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Keywords:

  • auditory perception;
  • development;
  • EEG;
  • MMN;
  • pattern perception;
  • pitch

Abstract

In order to process speech and music, the auditory cortex must learn to process patterns of sounds. Our previous studies showed that with a stream consisting of a repeating (standard) sound, younger infants show an increase in the amplitude of a positive slow wave in response to occasional changes (deviants) in pitch or duration, whereas older infants show a faster negative response that resembles mismatch negativity (MMN) in adults (Trainor et al., 2001, 2003; He et al., 2007). MMN reflects an automatic change-detection process that does not require attention, conscious awareness or behavioural response for its elicitation (Picton et al., 2000; Näätänen et al., 2007). It is an important tool for understanding auditory perception because MMN reflects a change-detection mechanism, and not simply that repetition of a stimulus results in a refractory state of sensory neural circuits while occasional changes to a new sound activate new non-refractory neural circuits (Näätänen et al., 2005). For example, MMN is elicited by a change in the pattern of a repeating note sequence, even when no new notes are introduced that could activate new sensory circuits (Alain et al., 1994, 1999;Schröger et al., 1996). In the present study, we show that in response to a change in the pattern of two repeating tones, MMN in 4-month-olds remains robust whereas the 2-month-old response does not. This indicates that the MMN response to a change in pattern at 4 months reflects the activation of a change-detection mechanism similarly as in adults.