1) To determine whether an adult-like mismatch negativity (MMN) can be reliably elicited in typically developing awake infants and preschool children, and if so 2) to examine whether maturational changes exist in MMN latency and amplitude.
Two experiments were designed to elicit MMN using an “oddball” paradigm. In Experiment 1, a 1000-Hz tone served as the standard stimulus and a 1200-Hz tone as the deviant. In Experiment 2, a 1000-Hz standard stimulus and a 2000-Hz deviant were presented. Infants’ ages ranged from 2 to 47 and 3 to 44 mo in Experiments 1 and 2, respectively.
In Experiment 1, a negativity was not elicited in the majority of the infants and preschoolers tested. In Experiment 2, a negativity was reliably elicited in the infants and preschoolers across all ages. A significant negative correlation was observed between age and latency, but not for age and amplitude for this negativity. This negativity was found to decrease at a rate of 1 msec/mo. Infants younger than 12 mo of age showed a significantly larger positivity to the deviant than to the standard between 150–300 and 200–300 msec in Experiments 1 and 2, respectively.
The discriminative processes indexed by MMN in response to frequency changes are immature in infants and preschool children. Although there is convincing evidence that the negativity elicited in Experiment 2 is an immature MMN, the possibility that it may be an “obligatory effect” indexing recovery from refractoriness cannot be ruled out at this time. The results from these experiments suggest that the MMN component has limited use as a clinical tool at this time for infants and young children.