Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Pitch discrimination in optimal and suboptimal acoustic environments: electroencephalographic, magnetoencephalographic, and behavioral evidence

Nikolai Novitski

Doctoral dissertation, November 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, Department of Psychology, Cognitive Brain Research Unit and Neuroscience Unit, Institute of Biomedicine/Physiology, University of Helsinki and Helsinki Brain Research Center.

Pitch discrimination is a fundamental property of the human auditory system. Our understanding of pitch-discrimination mechanisms is important from both theoretical and clinical perspectives. The discrimination of spectrally complex sounds is crucial in the processing of music and speech. Current methods of cognitive neuroscience can track the brain processes underlying sound processing either with precise temporal (EEG and MEG) or spatial resolution (PET and fMRI). A combination of different techniques is therefore required in contemporary auditory research. One of the problems in comparing the EEG/MEG and fMRI methods, however, is the fMRI acoustic noise. In the present thesis, EEG and MEG in combination with behavioral techniques were used, first, to define the ERP correlates of automatic pitch discrimination across a wide frequency range in adults and neonates and, second, they were used to determine the effect of recorded acoustic fMRI noise on those adult ERP and ERF correlates during passive and active pitch discrimination. Pure tones and complex 3-harmonic sounds served as stimuli in the oddball and matching-to-sample paradigms. The results suggest that pitch discrimination in adults, as reflected by MMN latency, is most accurate in the 1000-2000 Hz frequency range, and that pitch discrimination is facilitated further by adding harmonics to the fundamental frequency. Newborn infants are able to discriminate a 20% frequency change in the 250-4000 Hz frequency range, whereas the discrimination of a 5% frequency change was unconfirmed. Furthermore, the effect of the fMRI gradient noise on the automatic processing of pitch change was more prominent for tones with frequencies exceeding 500 Hz, overlapping with the spectral maximum of the noise. When the fundamental frequency of the tones was lower than the spectral maximum of the noise, fMRI noise had no effect on MMN and P3a, whereas the noise delayed and suppressed N1 and exogenous N2. Noise also suppressed the N1 amplitude in a matching-to-sample working memory task. However, the task-related difference observed in the N1 component, suggesting a functional dissociation between the processing of spatial and non-spatial auditory information, was partially preserved in the noise condition. Noise hampered feature coding mechanisms more than it hampered the mechanisms of change detection, involuntary attention, and the segregation of the spatial and non-spatial domains of working-memory. The data presented in the thesis can be used to develop clinical ERP-based frequency-discrimination protocols and combined EEG and fMRI experimental paradigms.

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Last updated 17.10.2006

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