Seeing and hearing speech excites the motor system involved in speech production

Neuropsychologia. 2003;41(8):989-94. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3932(02)00316-0.


The perception of action is associated with increased activity in motor regions, implicating such regions in the recognition, understanding and imitation of actions. We examined the possibility that perception of speech, both auditory and visual, would also result in changes in the excitability of the motor system underlying speech production. Transcranial magnetic stimulation was applied to the face area of primary motor cortex to elicit motor-evoked potentials in the lip muscles. The size of the motor-evoked potentials was compared under the following conditions: listening to speech, listening to non-verbal sounds, viewing speech-related lip movements, and viewing eye and brow movements. Compared to control conditions, listening to and viewing speech enhanced the size of the motor-evoked potential. This effect was only seen in response to stimulation of the left hemisphere; stimulation of the right hemisphere produced no changes in motor-evoked potentials in any of the conditions. In a control experiment, the size of the motor-evoked potentials elicited in the muscles of the right hand did not differ among conditions, suggesting that speech-related changes in excitability are specific to the lip muscles. These results provide evidence that both auditory and visual speech perception facilitate the excitability of the motor system involved in speech production.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology
  • Eye
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Lip
  • Magnetics
  • Male
  • Movement
  • Muscles / innervation
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Speech / physiology*
  • Speech Perception
  • Verbal Learning
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*