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Spectro-temporal analysis of complex tones: two cortical processes dependent on retention of sounds in the long auditory store

Clinical Neurophysiology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s1388-2457(00)00360-6
  • Auditory Evoked Potential
  • Mismatch Negativity
  • Complex Tones
  • Spectro-Temporal Sound Analysis
  • Grouping
  • Stream Segregation


Abstract Objectives: To examine whether two cortical processes concerned with spectro-temporal analysis of complex tones, a ‘C-process’ generating CN1 and CP2 potentials at cf. 100 and 180 ms after sudden change of pitch or timbre, and an ‘M-process’ generating MN1 and MP2 potentials of similar latency at the sudden cessation of repeated changes, are dependent on accumulation of a sound image in the long auditory store. Methods: The durations of steady (440 Hz) and rapidly oscillating (440–494 Hz, 16 changes/s) pitch of a synthesized ‘clarinet’ tone were reciprocally varied between 0.5 and 4.5 s within a duty cycle of 5 s. Potentials were recorded at the beginning and end of the period of oscillation in 10 non-attending normal subjects. Results: The CN1 at the beginning of pitch oscillation and the MN1 at the end were both strongly influenced by the duration of the immediately preceding stimulus pattern, mean amplitudes being 3–4 times larger after 4.5 s as compared with 0.5 s. Conclusions: The processes responsible for both CN1 and MN1 are influenced by the duration of the preceding sound pattern over a period comparable to that of the ‘echoic memory’ or long auditory store. The store therefore appears to occupy a key position in spectro-temporal sound analysis. The C-process is concerned with the spectral structure of complex sounds, and may therefore reflect the ‘grouping’ of frequency components underlying auditory stream segregation. The M-process (mismatch negativity) is concerned with the temporal sound structure, and may play an important role in the extraction of information from sequential sounds.

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