OBJECTIVE: Previous research associated the left inferior frontal cortex with implicit structure learning. The present study tested patients with lesions encompassing the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG; including Brodmann areas 44 and 45) to further investigate this cognitive function, notably by using non-verbal material, implicit investigation methods, and by enhancing potential remaining function via dynamic attending. Patients and healthy matched controls were exposed to an artificial pitch grammar in an implicit learning paradigm to circumvent the potential influence of impaired language processing.
METHODS: Patients and healthy controls listened to pitch sequences generated within a finite-state grammar (exposure phase) and then performed a categorization task on new pitch sequences (test phase). Participants were not informed about the underlying grammar in either the exposure phase or the test phase. Furthermore, the pitch structures were presented in a highly regular temporal context as the beneficial impact of temporal regularity (e.g. meter) in learning and perception has been previously reported. Based on the Dynamic Attending Theory (DAT), we hypothesized that a temporally regular context helps developing temporal expectations that, in turn, facilitate event perception, and thus benefit artificial grammar learning.
RESULTS: Electroencephalography results suggest preserved artificial grammar learning of pitch structures in patients and healthy controls. For both groups, analyses of event-related potentials revealed a larger early negativity (100-200 msec post-stimulus onset) in response to ungrammatical than grammatical pitch sequence events.
CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that (i) the LIFG does not play an exclusive role in the implicit learning of artificial pitch grammars, and (ii) the use of non-verbal material and an implicit task reveals cognitive capacities that remain intact despite lesions to the LIFG. These results provide grounds for training and rehabilitation, that is, learning of non-verbal grammars that may impact the relearning of verbal grammars.