Long-term implicit memory for sequential auditory patterns in humans


Memory, on multiple timescales, is critical to our ability to discover the structure of our surroundings, and efficiently interact with the environment. We combined behavioural manipulation and modelling to investigate the dynamics of memory formation for rarely reoccurring acoustic patterns. In a series of experiments, participants detected the emergence of regularly repeating patterns within rapid tone-pip sequences. Unbeknownst to them, a few patterns reoccurred every ~3 minutes. All sequences consisted of the same 20 frequencies and were distinguishable only by the order of tone-pips. Despite this, reoccurring patterns were associated with a rapidly growing detection-time advantage over novel patterns. This effect was implicit, robust to interference, and persisted up to 7 weeks. The results implicate an interplay between short (a few seconds) and long-term (over many minutes) integration in memory formation and demonstrate the remarkable sensitivity of the human auditory system to sporadically reoccurring structure within the acoustic environment.