Does familiarity facilitate the cortical processing of music sounds?
Automatic cortical sound discrimination, as indexed by the mismatch negativity (MMN) component of the auditory evoked potential, is facilitated for familiar speech sounds (phonemes). In musicians as compared to non-musicians, an enhanced MMN has been observed for complex non-speech sounds. Here, musically trained subjects were presented with sequences of either familiar (tonal) or structurally matched unfamiliar (atonal) triad chords, both with either fixed or randomly transposed chord root pitch. The MMN elicited by deviant chords did not differ for familiar and unfamiliar triad sequences, and was undiminished even to unfamiliar deviant sounds which were consciously undetectable. Only subsequent attention-related components indicated facilitated cognitive processing of familiar sounds, corresponding to higher behavioral detection scores.