Nov 22, 2019

Neural adaptation to accented speech: prefrontal cortex aids attunement in auditory cortices

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Laura GwilliamsLiina Pylkkanen


Speech is a complex and ambiguous acoustic signal that varies significantly within and across speakers. A prevalent and ubiquitous example of such variation is accented speech, to which humans adapt extremely rapidly. The goal of this study is to uncover the neurobiological bases of the attunement process that enables such fluent comprehension. Twenty-four native English participants listened to words spoken by an unaccented "canonical" American talker and two "accented" talkers, and performed a word-picture matching task, while magnetoencephalography (MEG) was recorded. Accented speech was created by including systematic phonological substitutions within the word (e.g. [s] -> [sh]). Activity in the auditory cortex (superior temporal gyrus) was greater for accented speech, but, critically, this was not attenuated by exposure. By contrast, prefrontal regions showed an interaction between the presence of an accent and amount of exposure: while activity decreased for canonical speech over time, responses to accented speech remained consistently elevated. Grainger causality analyses further revealed that prefrontal responses serve to modulate activity in auditory regions, suggesting the recruitment of top-down processing to decode ...Continue Reading

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