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Evolutionary origins of non-adjacent sequence processing in primate brain potentials

Lookup NU author(s): Alice Milne, Adam Attaheri, Professor Christopher Petkov



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


There is considerable interest in understanding the ontogeny and phylogeny of the human language system, yet, neurobiological work at the interface of both fields is absent. Syntactic processes in language build on sensory processing and sequencing capabilities on the side of the receiver. While we better understand language-related ontogenetic changes in the human brain, it remains a mystery how neurobiological processes at specific human development stages compare with those in phylogenetically closely related species. To address this knowledge gap, we measured EEG event-related potentials (ERPs) in two macaque monkeys using a paradigm developed to evaluate human infant and adult brain potentials associated with the processing of non-adjacent ordering relationships in sequences of syllable triplets. Frequent standard triplet sequences were interspersed with infrequent voice pitch or non-adjacent rule deviants. Monkey ERPs show early pitch and rule deviant mismatch responses that are strikingly similar to those previously reported in human infants. This stands in contrast to adults' later ERP responses for rule deviants. The results reveal how non-adjacent sequence ordering relationships are processed in the primate brain and provide evidence for evolutionarily conserved neurophysiological effects, some of which are remarkably like those seen at an early human developmental stage.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Milne AE, Mueller JL, Mannel C, Attaheri A, Friederici AD, Petkov CI

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Scientific Reports

Year: 2016

Volume: 6

Online publication date: 09/11/2016

Acceptance date: 12/10/2016

Date deposited: 18/01/2017

ISSN (print): 2045-2322

Publisher: Nature Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1038/srep36259


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Funder referenceFunder name
Max Planck Society
Medical Research Council (MRC, U.K.) PhD studentship
WT092606AIAWellcome Trust