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Dev Neurobiol. 2010 Aug;70(9):636-48. doi: 10.1002/dneu.20801.

Prolonged maturation of auditory perception and learning in gerbils.

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Center for Neural Science, New York University, New York, New York 10003, USA.


In humans, auditory perception reaches maturity over a broad age range, extending through adolescence. Despite this slow maturation, children are considered to be outstanding learners, suggesting that immature perceptual skills might actually be advantageous to improvement on an acoustic task as a result of training (perceptual learning). Previous non-human studies have not employed an identical task when comparing perceptual performance of young and mature subjects, making it difficult to assess learning. Here, we used an identical procedure on juvenile and adult gerbils to examine the perception of amplitude modulation (AM), a stimulus feature that is an important component of most natural sounds. On average, Adult animals could detect smaller fluctuations in amplitude (i.e., smaller modulation depths) than Juveniles, indicating immature perceptual skills in Juveniles. However, the population variance was much greater for Juveniles, a few animals displaying adult-like AM detection. To determine whether immature perceptual skills facilitated learning, we compared naïve performance on the AM detection task with the amount of improvement following additional training. The amount of improvement in Adults correlated with naïve performance: those with the poorest naïve performance improved the most. In contrast, the naïve performance of Juveniles did not predict the amount of learning. Those Juveniles with immature AM detection thresholds did not display greater learning than Adults. Furthermore, for several of the Juveniles with adult-like thresholds, AM detection deteriorated with repeated testing. Thus, immature perceptual skills in young animals were not associated with greater learning.

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