Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
The mismatch negativity (MMN) event-related potential (ERP) component is elicited by any discriminable change in series of repetitive auditory stimuli. MMN is generated by a process registering the deviation of the incoming stimulus from the trace of the previous repetitive stimulus. Using MMN as a probe into auditory sensory memory, the present study addressed the question of whether the sensory memory representation is formed strictly on the basis of an automatic feature analysis of incoming sensory stimuli or information from long-term memory is also incorporated. Trains of 6 tone bursts (standards with up to 1 deviant per train) separated by 9.5-sec intertrain intervals were presented to subjects performing a visual tracking task and disregarding the auditory stimuli. Trains were grouped into stimulus blocks of 20 trains with a 2-min rest period between blocks. In the Constant-Standard Condition, both standard and deviant stimuli remained fixed across the session, encouraging the formation of a long-term memory representation. To eliminate the carryover of sensory storage from one train to the next, the first 3.6 sec of the intertrain interval was filled with 6 tones of random frequencies. In the Roving-Standard Condition, the standard changed from train to train and the intervening tones were omitted. It was found that MMN was elicited by deviants presented in Position 2 of the trains in the Constant-Standard Condition revealing that a single reminder of the constant standard reactivated the standard-stimulus representation. The MMN amplitude increased across trials within each stimulus block in the Constant- but not in the Roving-Standard Condition, demonstrating long-term learning in that condition (i.e., the standard-stimulus trace indexed by the MMN amplitude benefitted from the presentations of the constant standard in the previous trains). The present results suggest that the transient auditory sensory memory representation underlying the MMN is facilitated by a longer-term representation of the corresponding stimulus.