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Chin Med J (Engl). 2008 Dec 5;121(23):2429-33.

Auditory pre-attentive processing of Chinese tones.

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ENT Department, Peking Union Medical College Hospital, Peking Union Medical College, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing 100730, China.



Chinese tones are considered important in Chinese discrimination. However, the relevant reports on auditory central mechanisms concerning Chinese tones are limited. In this study, mismatch negativity (MMN), one of the event related potentials (ERP), was used to investigate pre-attentive processing of Chinese tones, and the differences between the function of oddball MMN and that of control MMN are discussed.


Ten subjects (six men and four women) with normal hearing participated in the study. A sequence was presented to these subjects through a loudspeaker, the sequence included four blocks, a control block and three oddball blocks. The control block was made up of five components (one pure tone and four Chinese tones) with equiprobability. The oddball blocks were made up of two components, one was a standard stimulus (tone 1) and the other was a deviant stimulus (tone 2 or tone 3 or tone 4). Electroencephalogram (EEG) data were recorded when the sequence was presented and MMNs were obtained from the analysis of the EEG data.


Two kinds of MMNs were obtained, oddball MMN and control MMN. Oddball MMN was obtained by subtracting the ERP elicited by standard stimulation (tone 1) from that elicited by deviant stimulation (tone 2 or tone 3 or tone 4) in the oddball block; control MMN was obtained by subtracting the ERP elicited by the tone in control block, which was the same tone as the deviant stimulation in the oddball block, from the ERP elicited by deviant stimulation (tone 2 or tone 3 or tone 4) in the oddball block. There were two negative waves in oddball MMN, one appeared around 150 ms (oddball MMN 1), the other around 300 ms (oddball MMN 2). Only one negative wave appeared around 300 ms in control MMN, which was corresponding to the oddball MMN 2. We performed the statistical analyses in each paradigm for latencies and amplitudes for oddball MMN 2 in discriminating the three Chinese tones and reported no significant differences. But the latencies and amplitudes for control MMN in discriminating the three tones all were significantly different.


There are evident waveforms for oddball and control MMN obtained in normal hearing persons, indicating that the change of Chinese tones could be detected in the pre-attentive stage. Because control MMN can eliminate reflects for physical characteristics of sound, it is the genuine memory-based pre-attentive processing. Since control MMN can reflect the differences of Chinese tones processing better than oddball MMN, it is more sensitive in evaluating pre-attentive processing in Chinese tones discrimination.

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