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Comparative Study
. 2014 Feb 26;9(2):e89914.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0089914. eCollection 2014.

Achilles' Ear? Inferior Human Short-Term and Recognition Memory in the Auditory Modality

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Free PMC article
Comparative Study

Achilles' Ear? Inferior Human Short-Term and Recognition Memory in the Auditory Modality

James Bigelow et al. PLoS One. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

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.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1. Experiment 1: Mean (± SEM) short-term memory accuracy among sensory modalities for simple, artificial stimuli.
Short-term retention of auditory stimuli declines at a greater rate than retention of visual or tactile stimuli. There were no differences in accuracy among the sensory modalities for trials with brief retention intervals (1–4 s), indicating that the initial discriminability of the stimuli was approximately equal. However, at longer retention intervals (8–32 s), accuracy for auditory trials was significantly lower than visual and tactile trials. Post-hoc tests (p<.05, Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons): *Accuracy in the auditory block significantly lower than the tactile block. †Accuracy in the auditory block significantly lower than the visual block.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Experiment 2: Mean (+ SEM) recognition accuracy among sensory modalities for complex, naturalistic stimuli.
(A) When tested immediately after the study phase, recognition accuracy was lower for auditory stimuli than visual or tactile stimuli. (B) Similarly, recognition was lower for auditory stimuli when tested 24 hours after the study phase. (C) When tested one week after the study phase, recognition accuracy was significantly lower for auditory stimuli than tactile stimuli, but the difference between auditory and visual recognition was not significant. Post-hoc tests (p<.05; Bonferroni correction): *Accuracy in the auditory block significantly lower than the tactile block. †Accuracy in the auditory block significantly lower than the visual block.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Comparison of visual and auditory short-term memory among primates.
(A) In the present experiment, inferior retention was observed for auditory compared to visual stimuli in human subjects. This pattern of results is qualitatively similar to that which has been observed in the chimpanzee (B), as well as both old-world (C) and new-world monkeys (D). (B) Adapted from Hashiya and Kojima ; (C) adapted from Fritz et al. ; (D) adapted from Colombo and D’Amato .

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