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Electrophysiological Signals of Familiarity and Recency in the Infant Brain

Authors


should be sent to Kelly A. Snyder, Department of Psychology, University of Denver, 2155 S. Race St., Denver, CO 80208. E-mail: ksnyder@nova.psy.du.edu; ksnyder2@du.edu

Abstract

Electrophysiological work in nonhuman primates has established the existence of multiple types of signals in the temporal lobe that contribute to recognition memory, including information regarding a stimulus’s relative novelty, familiarity, and recency of occurrence. We used high-density event-related potentials (ERPs) to examine whether young infants represent these distinct types of information about previously experienced items. Twenty-four different highly familiar and initially novel items were each repeated exactly once either immediately (Experiment 1), or following one intervening item (Experiment 2). A late slow wave (LSW) component of the ERP exhibited neural responses consistent with recency signals over right-central leads, but only when there were no intervening stimuli between repetitions. The LSW also exhibited responses consistent with familiarity signals over anterior-temporal leads, but only when there were intervening stimuli between repetitions. A mid-latency negative component (i.e., the Nc) also distinguished familiar from novel items, but did not exhibit a pattern of responding consistent with familiarity signals. These findings suggest that infants encode information about a variety of objects from their natural environments into long-term memory, and can discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar items, and between recently seen and new items, very quickly (within 1 sec). They also suggest that infants represent information about not only whether a stimulus is familiar or unfamiliar but also whether it has been seen recently.

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