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Numerical discrimination in newborn infants as revealed by event-related potentials to tone sequences

Authors

  • Timo Ruusuvirta,

    1. Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, Siltavuorenpenger 20 C, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
    2. Department of Psychology, 33014 University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland
    3. Department of Psychology, 400014 University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
    4. Turku Institute for Advanced Studies, Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, Department of Psychology, University of Turku/Turku School of Economics, Assistentinkatu 7, Turku, Finland
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  • Minna Huotilainen,

    1. Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, Siltavuorenpenger 20 C, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
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  • Vineta Fellman,

    1. Hospital for Children and Adolescents, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Stenbäckinkatu 11, Helsinki, Finland
    2. Department of Pediatrics, Clinical Sciences, Lund University, Lund, Sweden
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  • Risto Näätänen

    1. Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, Siltavuorenpenger 20 C, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
    2. Department of Psychology, University of Tartu, Tiigi, Tartu, Estonia
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Dr T. Ruusuvirta, 4Turku Institute for Advanced Studies, as above.
E-mail: timo.ruusuvirta@utu.fi

Abstract

Humans are able to attentively discriminate number from 6 months of age. However, the age of the emergence of this ability at the pre-attentive stage of processing remains unclear. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded in newborn human infants aged from 3 to 5 days. At 500-ms intervals, the infants were passively exposed to 200-ms sequences of four tones. Each tone could be either 1000 or 1500 Hz in frequency. In most sequences (standards), the ratio of the tones of one frequency to those of the other frequency in a sequence was 2 : 2. In the remaining sequences (deviants, = 0.1), this ratio was either 3 : 1 or 4 : 0. The mismatch response of ERPs could not be found for 3 : 1 deviants, but it was a robust finding for 4 : 0 deviants, showing the neurophysiological ability of the infants to register the larger deviant–standard difference. The findings suggest very early sensitivity to auditory numerical information in infancy.

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