Functional Development in the Infant Brain for Auditory Pitch Processing

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Understanding how the developing brain processes auditory information is a critical step toward the clarification of infants' perception of speech and music. We have reported that the infant brain perceives pitch information in speech sounds. Here, we used multichannel near-infrared spectroscopy to examine whether the infant brain is sensitive to information of pitch changes in auditory sequences. Three types of auditory sequences with distinct temporal structures of pitch changes were presented to 3- and 6-month-old infants: a long condition of 12 successive tones constructing a chromatic scale (600 ms), a short condition of four successive tones constructing a chromatic scale (200 ms), and a random condition of random tone sequences (50 ms per tone). The difference among the conditions was only in the sequential order of the tones, which causes pitch changes between the successive tones. We found that the bilateral temporal regions of both ages of infants showed significant activation under the three conditions. The stimulus-dependent activation was observed in the right temporoparietal region of the both infant groups; the 3- and 6-month-old infants showed the most prominent activation under the random and short conditions, respectively. Our findings indicate that the infant brain, which shows functional differentiation and lateralization in auditory-related areas, is capable of responding to more than single tones of pitch information. These results suggest that the right temporoparietal region of the infants increases sensitivity to auditory sequences, which have temporal structures similar to those of syllables in speech sounds, in the course of development. Hum Brain Mapp, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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