Development of infant mismatch responses to auditory pattern changes between 2 and 4 months old


Dr L. J. Trainor, as above.


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.