Behavioral and neural correlates of perceived and imagined musical timbre

Neuropsychologia. 2004;42(9):1281-92. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2003.12.017.


The generality of findings implicating secondary auditory areas in auditory imagery was tested by using a timbre imagery task with fMRI. Another aim was to test whether activity in supplementary motor area (SMA) seen in prior studies might have been related to subvocalization. Participants with moderate musical background were scanned while making similarity judgments about the timbre of heard or imagined musical instrument sounds. The critical control condition was a visual imagery task. The pattern of judgments in perceived and imagined conditions was similar, suggesting that perception and imagery access similar cognitive representations of timbre. As expected, judgments of heard timbres, relative to the visual imagery control, activated primary and secondary auditory areas with some right-sided asymmetry. Timbre imagery also activated secondary auditory areas relative to the visual imagery control, although less strongly, in accord with previous data. Significant overlap was observed in these regions between perceptual and imagery conditions. Because the visual control task resulted in deactivation of auditory areas relative to a silent baseline, we interpret the timbre imagery effect as a reversal of that deactivation. Despite the lack of an obvious subvocalization component to timbre imagery, some activity in SMA was observed, suggesting that SMA may have a more general role in imagery beyond any motor component.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Association
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Music / psychology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reference Values
  • Sound
  • Speech / physiology