Neuroimaging Evidence for Top-Down Maturation of Selective Auditory Attention
This study investigated maturational differences of selective auditory attention effects on transient evoked responses and 40-Hz auditory steady-state responses between children and adults. Magnetoencephalography (MEG) was recorded from children and adults performing a task where they attended to 40-Hz amplitude-modulated (AM) tones of 1,200 Hz while ignoring 40-Hz AM tones of 800 Hz. By using standard dipole-modeling procedures, the N1m of the transient evoked fields and the 40-Hz ASSRs were localized to secondary and primary auditory cortices, respectively. Source waveforms for the transient evoked fields and ASSRs were reconstructed at these locations and compared between attended and unattended tones. Source waveforms revealed attention enhances the sustained negativity of the transient evoked responses in both adults and children around 250 and 400 ms. ASSRs were also found to be enhanced within this time range but only for adults. The results provide evidence for a limited role of attention modification of the 40-Hz ASSRs in children around the age of 12 years old. Because ASSRs are generated in a lower auditory processing stage as compared to the transient auditory evoked responses, findings from the present study could indicate that the maturation of attention progresses in top-to-bottom manner. These findings fit with the notion that as a person gains sensory experience selective gating of relevant from irrelevant information likely occurs at earlier and earlier processing levels in order to become more automatic and efficient.