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P3b reflects periodicity in linguistic sequences

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Otterbein, S., Abel, C., Heinemann, L. V., Kaiser, J., & Schmidt-Kassow, M. (2012). P3b reflects periodicity in linguistic sequences. PLoS ONE, 7(12): e51419. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051419.

<p>Temporal predictability is thought to affect stimulus processing by facilitating the allocation of attentional resources. Recent studies have shown that periodicity of a tonal sequence results in a decreased peak latency and a larger amplitude of the P3b compared with temporally random, i.e., aperiodic sequences. We investigated whether this applies also to sequences of linguistic stimuli (syllables), although speech is usually aperiodic. We compared aperiodic syllable sequences with two temporally regular conditions. In one condition, the interval between syllable onset was fixed, whereas in a second condition the interval between the syllables’ perceptual center (p-center) was kept constant. Event-related potentials were assessed in 30 adults who were instructed to detect irregularities in the stimulus sequences. We found larger P3b amplitudes for both temporally predictable conditions as compared to the aperiodic condition and a shorter P3b latency in the p-center condition than in both other conditions. These findings demonstrate that even in acoustically more complex sequences such as syllable streams, temporal predictability facilitates the processing of deviant stimuli. Furthermore, we provide first electrophysiological evidence for the relevance of the p-center concept in linguistic stimulus processing.</p>