Perceptual learning of acoustic noise generates memory-evoked potentials

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Abstract

Experience continuously imprints on the brain at all stages of life. The traces it leaves behind can produce perceptual learning [1], which drives adaptive behavior to previously encountered stimuli. Recently, it has been shown that even random noise, a type of sound devoid of acoustic structure, can trigger fast and robust perceptual learning after repeated exposure [2]. Here, by combining psychophysics, electroencephalography (EEG), and modeling, we show that the perceptual learning of noise is associated with evoked potentials, without any salient physical discontinuity or obvious acoustic landmark in the sound. Rather, the potentials appeared whenever a memory trace was observed behaviorally. Such memory-evoked potentials were characterized by early latencies and auditory topographies, consistent with a sensory origin. Furthermore, they were generated even on conditions of diverted attention. The EEG waveforms could be modeled as standard evoked responses to auditory events (N1-P2) [3], triggered by idiosyncratic perceptual features acquired through learning. Thus, we argue that the learning of noise is accompanied by the rapid formation of sharp neural selectivity to arbitrary and complex acoustic patterns, within sensory regions. Such a mechanism bridges the gap between the short-term and longer-term plasticity observed in the learning of noise [2, 4-6]. It could also be key to the processing of natural sounds within auditory cortices [7], suggesting that the neural code for sound source identification will be shaped by experience as well as by acoustics.

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Andrillon, T., Kouider, S., Agus, T., & Pressnitzer, D. (2015). Perceptual learning of acoustic noise generates memory-evoked potentials. Current Biology, 25(21), 2823–2829. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.09.027

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