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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