Due to auditory experience, musicians have better auditory expertise than non-musicians. An increased neocortical activity during auditory oddball stimulation was observed in different studies for musicians and for non-musicians after discrimination training. This suggests a modification of synaptic strength among simultaneously active neurons due to the training. We used amplitude-modulated tones (AM) presented in an oddball sequence and manipulated their carrier or modulation frequencies. We investigated non-musicians in order to see if behavioral discrimination training could modify the neocortical activity generated by change detection of AM tone attributes (carrier or modulation frequency). Cortical evoked responses like N1 and mismatch negativity (MMN) triggered by sound changes were recorded by a whole head magnetoencephalographic system (MEG). We investigated (i) how the auditory cortex reacts to pitch difference (in carrier frequency) and changes in temporal features (modulation frequency) of AM tones and (ii) how discrimination training modulates the neuronal activity reflecting the transient auditory responses generated in the auditory cortex.
The results showed that, additionally to an improvement of the behavioral discrimination performance, discrimination training of carrier frequency changes significantly modulates the MMN and N1 response amplitudes after the training. This process was accompanied by an attention switch to the deviant stimulus after the training procedure identified by the occurrence of a P3a component. In contrast, the training in discrimination of modulation frequency was not sufficient to improve the behavioral discrimination performance and to alternate the cortical response (MMN) to the modulation frequency change. The N1 amplitude, however, showed significant increase after and one week after the training. Similar to the training in carrier frequency discrimination, a long lasting involuntary attention to the deviant stimulus was observed.
We found that discrimination training differentially modulates the cortical responses to pitch changes and to envelope fluctuation changes of AM tones. This suggests that discrimination between AM tones requires additional neuronal mechanisms compared to discrimination process between pure tones. After the training, the subjects demonstrated an involuntary attention switch to the deviant stimulus (represented by the P3a-component in the MEG) even though attention was not prerequisite.