Neural dissociation in processing noise and accent in spoken language comprehension

Adank, P., Davis, M. H., & Hagoort, P. (2012). Neural dissociation in processing noise and accent in spoken language comprehension. Neuropsychologia, 50, 77-84. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.10.024.
We investigated how two distortions of the speech signal–added background noise and speech in an unfamiliar accent - affect comprehension of speech using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). Listeners performed a speeded sentence verification task for speech in quiet in Standard Dutch, in Standard Dutch with added background noise, and for speech in an unfamiliar accent of Dutch. The behavioural results showed slower responses for both types of distortion compared to clear speech, and no difference between the two distortions. The neuroimaging results showed that, compared to clear speech, processing noise resulted in more activity bilaterally in Inferior Frontal Gyrus, Frontal Operculum, while processing accented speech recruited an area in left Superior Temporal Gyrus/Sulcus. It is concluded that the neural bases for processing different distortions of the speech signal dissociate. It is suggested that current models of the cortical organisation of speech are updated to specifically associate bilateral inferior frontal areas with processing external distortions (e.g., background noise) and left temporal areas with speaker-related distortions (e.g., accents).
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