Achilles’ Ear Inferior Human Short-Term and Recognition Memory in the Auditory ModalityReport as inadecuate

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Studies of the memory capabilities of nonhuman primates have consistently revealed a relative weakness for auditory compared to visual or tactile stimuli: extensive training is required to learn auditory memory tasks, and subjects are only capable of retaining acoustic information for a brief period of time. Whether a parallel deficit exists in human auditory memory remains an outstanding question. In the current study, a short-term memory paradigm was used to test human subjects’ retention of simple auditory, visual, and tactile stimuli that were carefully equated in terms of discriminability, stimulus exposure time, and temporal dynamics. Mean accuracy did not differ significantly among sensory modalities at very short retention intervals 1–4 s. However, at longer retention intervals 8–32 s, accuracy for auditory stimuli fell substantially below that observed for visual and tactile stimuli. In the interest of extending the ecological validity of these findings, a second experiment tested recognition memory for complex, naturalistic stimuli that would likely be encountered in everyday life. Subjects were able to identify all stimuli when retention was not required, however, recognition accuracy following a delay period was again inferior for auditory compared to visual and tactile stimuli. Thus, the outcomes of both experiments provide a human parallel to the pattern of results observed in nonhuman primates. The results are interpreted in light of neuropsychological data from nonhuman primates, which suggest a difference in the degree to which auditory, visual, and tactile memory are mediated by the perirhinal and entorhinal cortices.

Author: James Bigelow, Amy Poremba



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