Multisensory gains in simple detection predict global cognition in schoolchildren
AUTHORS: Denervaud S, Gentaz E, Matusz PJ, Murray MM
Scientific Reports, 10(1394): , February 2020
The capacity to integrate information from different senses is central for coherent perception across the lifespan from infancy onwards. Later in life, multisensory processes are related to cognitive functions, such as speech or social communication. During learning, multisensory processes can in fact enhance subsequent recognition memory for unisensory objects. These benefits can even be predicted; adults’ recognition memory performance is shaped by earlier responses in the same task to multisensory – but not unisensory – information. Everyday environments where learning occurs, such as classrooms, are inherently multisensory in nature. Multisensory processes may therefore scaffold healthy cognitive development. Here, we provide the first evidence of a predictive relationship between multisensory benefits in simple detection and higher-level cognition that is present already in schoolchildren. Multiple regression analyses indicated that the extent to which a child (N = 68; aged 4.5–15years) exhibited multisensory benefits on a simple detection task not only predicted benefits on a continuous recognition task involving naturalistic objects (p = 0.009), even when controlling for age, but also the same relative multisensory benefit also predicted working memory scores (p = 0.023) and fluid intelligence scores (p = 0.033) as measured using age-standardised test batteries. By contrast, gains in unisensory detection did not show significant prediction of any of the above global cognition measures. Our findings show that low-level multisensory processes predict higher-order memory and cognition already during childhood, even if still subject to ongoing maturation. These results call for revision of traditional models of cognitive development (and likely also education) to account for the role of multisensory processing, while also opening exciting opportunities to facilitate early learning through multisensory programs. More generally, these data suggest that a simple detection task could provide direct insights into the integrity of global cognition in schoolchildren and could be further developed as a readily-implemented and cost-effective screening tool for neurodevelopmental disorders, particularly in cases when standard neuropsychological tests are infeasible or unavailable.