Optical brain imaging reveals general auditory and language-specific processing in early infant development.
This study uses near-infrared spectroscopy in young infants in order to elucidate the nature of functional cerebral processing for speech. Previous imaging studies of infants' speech perception revealed left-lateralized responses to native language. However, it is unclear if these activations were due to language per se rather than to some low-level acoustic correlate of spoken language. Here we compare native (L1) and non-native (L2) languages with 3 different nonspeech conditions including emotional voices, monkey calls, and phase scrambled sounds that provide more stringent controls. Hemodynamic responses to these stimuli were measured in the temporal areas of Japanese 4 month-olds. The results show clear left-lateralized responses to speech, prominently to L1, as opposed to various activation patterns in the nonspeech conditions. Furthermore, implementing a new analysis method designed for infants, we discovered a slower hemodynamic time course in awake infants. Our results are largely explained by signal-driven auditory processing. However, stronger activations to L1 than to L2 indicate a language-specific neural factor that modulates these responses. This study is the first to discover a significantly higher sensitivity to L1 in 4 month-olds and reveals a neural precursor of the functional specialization for the higher cognitive network.
Minagawa-Kawai, Y; van der Lely, H; Ramus, F; Sato, Y; Mazuka, R; Dupoux, E
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