Development of Simultaneous Pitch Encoding: Infants Show a High Voice Superiority Effect
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Infants must learn to make sense of real-world auditory environments containing simultaneous and overlapping sounds. In adults, event-related potential studies have demonstrated the existence of separate preattentive memory traces for concurrent note sequences and revealed perceptual dominance for encoding of the voice with higher fundamental frequency of 2 simultaneous tones or melodies. Here, we presented 2 simultaneous streams of notes (15 semitones apart) to 7-month-old infants. On 50% of trials, either the higher or the lower note was modified by one semitone, up or down, leaving 50% standard trials. Infants showed mismatch negativity (MMN) to changes in both voices, indicating separate memory traces for each voice. Furthermore, MMN was earlier and larger for the higher voice as in adults. When in the context of a second voice, representation of the lower voice was decreased and that of the higher voice increased compared with when each voice was presented alone. Additionally, correlations between MMN amplitude and amount of weekly music listening suggest that experience affects the development of auditory memory. In sum, the ability to process simultaneous pitches and the dominance of the highest voice emerge early during infancy and are likely important for the perceptual organization of sound in realistic environments.
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