Processing of complex auditory patterns in musicians and nonmusicians.PLoS One. 2011; 6(7):e21458.Plos
In the present study we investigated the capacity of the memory store underlying the mismatch negativity (MMN) response in musicians and nonmusicians for complex tone patterns. While previous studies have focused either on the kind of information that can be encoded or on the decay of the memory trace over time, we studied capacity in terms of the length of tone sequences, i.e., the number of individual tones that can be fully encoded and maintained. By means of magnetoencephalography (MEG) we recorded MMN responses to deviant tones that could occur at any position of standard tone patterns composed of four, six or eight tones during passive, distracted listening. Whereas there was a reliable MMN response to deviant tones in the four-tone pattern in both musicians and nonmusicians, only some individuals showed MMN responses to the longer patterns. This finding of a reliable capacity of the short-term auditory store underlying the MMN response is in line with estimates of a three to five item capacity of the short-term memory trace from behavioural studies, although pitch and contour complexity covaried with sequence length, which might have led to an understatement of the reported capacity. Whereas there was a tendency for an enhancement of the pattern MMN in musicians compared to nonmusicians, a strong advantage for musicians could be shown in an accompanying behavioural task of detecting the deviants while attending to the stimuli for all pattern lengths, indicating that long-term musical training differentially affects the memory capacity of auditory short-term memory for complex tone patterns with and without attention. Also, a left-hemispheric lateralization of MMN responses in the six-tone pattern suggests that additional networks that help structuring the patterns in the temporal domain might be recruited for demanding auditory processing in the pitch domain.