Anatomical correlates of learning novel speech sounds

Neuron. 2002 Aug 29;35(5):997-1010. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(02)00862-0.


We examined the relationship between brain anatomy and the ability to learn nonnative speech sounds, as well as rapidly changing and steady-state nonlinguistic sounds, using voxel-based morphometry in 59 healthy adults. Faster phonetic learners appeared to have more white matter in parietal regions, especially in the left hemisphere. The pattern of results was similar for the rapidly changing but not for the steady-state nonlinguistic stimuli, suggesting that morphological correlates of phonetic learning are related to the ability to process rapid temporal variation. Greater asymmetry in the amount of white matter in faster learners may be related to greater myelination allowing more efficient neural processing, which is critical for the ability to process certain speech sounds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Acoustic Stimulation / statistics & numerical data
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Parietal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Phonetics*