Hidden Markov Modeling of Frequency-Following Responses to Mandarin Lexical Tones

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Publication date: Available online 12 August 2017
Source:Journal of Neuroscience Methods
Author(s): Fernando Llanos, Zilong Xie, Bharath Chandrasekaran
BackgroundThe frequency-following response (FFR) is a scalp-recorded electrophysiological potential reflecting phase-locked activity from neural ensembles in the auditory system. The FFR is often used to assess the robustness of subcortical pitch processing. Due to low signal-to-noise ratio at the single-trial level, FFRs are typically averaged across thousands of stimulus repetitions. Prior work using this approach has shown that subcortical encoding of linguistically-relevant pitch patterns is modulated by long-term language experience.New methodWe examine the extent to which a machine learning approach using hidden Markov modeling (HMM) can be utilized to decode Mandarin tone-categories from scalp-record electrophysiolgical activity. We then assess the extent to which the HMM can capture biologically-relevant effects (language experience-driven plasticity). To this end, we recorded FFRs to four Mandarin tones from 14 adult native speakers of Chinese and 14 of native English. We trained a HMM to decode tone categories from the FFRs with varying size of averages.Results and comparisons with existingmethods Tone categories were decoded with above-chance accuracies using HMM. The HMM derived metric (decoding accuracy) revealed a robust effect of language experience, such that FFRs from native Chinese speakers yielded greater accuracies than native English speakers. Critically, the language experience-driven plasticity was captured with average sizes significantly smaller than those used in the extant literature.ConclusionsOur results demonstrate the feasibility of HMM in assessing the robustness of neural pitch. Machine-learning approaches can complement extant analytical methods that capture auditory function and could reduce the number of trials needed to capture biological phenomena.

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