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      Enhancement of Gamma Oscillations Indicates Preferential Processing of Native over Foreign Phonemic Contrasts in Infants

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          Abstract

          Young infants discriminate phonetically relevant speech contrasts in a universal manner, that is, similarly across languages. This ability fades by 12 months of age as the brain builds language-specific phonemic maps and increasingly responds preferentially to the infant's native language. However, the neural mechanisms that underlie the development of infant preference for native over non-native phonemes remain unclear. Since gamma-band power is known to signal infants' preference for native language rhythm, we hypothesized that it might also indicate preference for native phonemes. Using high-density electroencephalogram/event-related potential (EEG/ERP) recordings and source-localization techniques to identify and locate the ERP generators, we examined changes in brain oscillations while 6-month-old human infants from monolingual English settings listened to English and Spanish syllable contrasts. Neural dynamics were investigated via single-trial analysis of the temporal-spectral composition of brain responses at source level. Increases in 4–6 Hz (theta) power and in phase synchronization at 2–4 Hz (delta/theta) were found to characterize infants' evoked responses to discrimination of native/non-native syllable contrasts mostly in the left auditory source. However, selective enhancement of induced gamma oscillations in the area of anterior cingulate cortex was seen only during native contrast discrimination. These results suggest that gamma oscillations support syllable discrimination in the earliest stages of language acquisition, particularly during the period in which infants begin to develop preferential processing for linguistically relevant phonemic features in their environment. Our results also suggest that by 6 months of age, infants already treat native phonemic contrasts differently from non-native, implying that perceptual specialization and establishment of enduring phonemic memory representations have been initiated.

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          Author and article information

          Journal
          J Neurosci
          J. Neurosci
          jneuro
          jneurosci
          J. Neurosci
          The Journal of Neuroscience
          Society for Neuroscience
          0270-6474
          1529-2401
          27 November 2013
          : 33
          : 48
          : 18746-18754
          Affiliations
          [1] 1Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Newark, New Jersey 07102,
          [2] 2Department of Psychology, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, 40014, Finland, and
          [3] 3Communication Sciences and Disorders, Montclair State University, Bloomfield, New Jersey 07003
          Author notes
          Correspondence should be addressed to Silvia Ortiz-Mantilla, Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 197 University Avenue, Newark, NJ 07102. sortizma@ 123456andromeda.rutgers.edu

          Author contributions: A.A.B. designed research; S.O.-M. and A.A.B. performed research; S.O.-M., J.A.H., and A.A.B. analyzed data; S.O.-M., J.A.H., G.M., and A.A.B. wrote the paper.

          Article
          PMC6618705 PMC6618705 6618705 3260-13
          10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3260-13.2013
          6618705
          24285881
          58179140-65b8-4f40-a44f-c3d33a9f8ae4
          Copyright © 2013 the authors 0270-6474/13/3318746-09$15.00/0
          Categories
          Articles
          Behavioral/Cognitive

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