Neurophysiologically mediated auditory processing insensitivity in children with specific language impairment: behavioural discrimination and the mismatch and late discriminative negativities

Elise Mengler

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated abstract] Some children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) show poor performance on behavioural tasks designed to measure rapid auditory processing, such as the Repetition Test developed by Tallal and colleagues. Stemming from concerns about whether this task reflects higher-order, cognitive variables, this thesis sought to determine whether the performance deficits SLI children show were evident at the neurophysiological level, with minimal cognitive influences, such as attention, using paradigms designed to elicit the mismatch negativity (MMN) and late discriminative negativity (LDN). In the first two studies, a MMN paradigm, equivalent to the Repetition Test, was trialled with a group of 8 adults. In this paired paradigm, the second tone of a pair of pure tones ascending in frequency ('low'-'high') was occasionally replaced with a 'low' tone. The aim was to determine a 'long' and 'short' intra-pair interval (IPI) with which MMN was generated utilizing this paradigm and that were congruent with the Repetition Test findings (i.e., a long IPI at which SLI were able to perform the task, and a short IPI at which SLI children's performance was selectively impaired). In Study One, MMN to a within-pair frequency change was generated with the 30 ms IPI, but not the 700 ms IPI. The grouping parameters of the temporal window of integration (TWI) and temporal distinctiveness were considered less than optimal for the grouping of the pairs presented at 700 ms IPI for the pre-attentive system to register the within-pair frequency change. ... The frequency difference limens (DLs) of the SLI group were significantly higher than a group of 18 normally developing age- and intelligence-matched peers, but there was no significant difference between the groups in their performance on a control intensity discrimination task. The iii SLI group also showed poorer reading skills, yet frequency discrimination was related to oral language ability only. In the final study, MMN was measured to examine the pre-attentive neurophysiological basis of the SLI group's frequency discrimination deficit. Two frequency deviants that were just above each group's 75% DL on the frequency discrimination task were employed in a simple frequency change paradigm: 40 Hz difference for the control group, and 80 Hz difference for the SLI group. MMN and LDN were elicited in the group of 15 normally developing children to their 40 Hz suprathreshold frequency difference and to the 80 Hz difference. A significant MMN was not observed in the group of 13 SLI children to the 40 Hz difference, which was below their threshold level. However, despite discrimination at the behavioural level, MMN did not reach significance in the SLI group to their 80 Hz suprathreshold frequency difference, yet LDN was observed. MMN was larger in both groups for the 80 Hz difference. Furthermore, MMN and LDN amplitude to the suprathreshold deviants were predictive of both frequency and intensity DLs. These results suggested that SLI children have a pre-attentive neurophysiologically mediated insensitivity to small frequency differences, and that MMN (and LDN) to suprathreshold frequency deviants is a sensitive indicator of group discrimination differences and brain-behaviour relationships in children with and without SLI.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2007


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