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Neuroimage. 2007 Jan 1;34(1):407-15. Epub 2006 Oct 12.

Assessing infants' cortical response to speech using near-infrared spectroscopy.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Texas A&M University, 4235 TAMU, College Station, TX 77843, USA.


Sensitivity to spoken language is an integral part of infants' formative development, yet relatively little is known about the neural mechanisms that underlie the emerging ability to perceive and process speech. This is in large part because there are a limited number of non-invasive techniques available to measure brain functioning in human infants. Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), an optical imaging technique that estimates changes in neuronal activity by measuring changes in total hemoglobin concentration and oxygenation, may be a viable procedure for assessing the relation between speech processing and brain function in human infants. While auditory processing data have been gathered from newborn and preterm infants using NIRS, such data have not been collected from older infants. Many behavioral measures used to establish linguistic sensitivity in this population are accompanied by visual stimuli; however, it is unclear how coupling of auditory and visual stimuli influences neural processing. Here we studied cortical activity in infants aged 6-9 months, as measured by NIRS, during exposure to linguistic stimuli paired with visual stimuli and compared this to the activity observed in the same regions during exposure to visual stimuli alone. Results dissociate infants' hemodynamic responses to multimodal and unimodal stimuli, demonstrating the utility of NIRS for studying perceptual development in infants. In particular, these findings support the use of NIRS to study the neurobiology of language development in older infants, a task that is difficult to accomplish without the use of attention-getting visual stimuli.

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