Analysis of the spectral envelope of sounds by the human brain

Neuroimage. 2005 Feb 15;24(4):1052-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.10.031.


Spectral envelope is the shape of the power spectrum of sound. It is an important cue for the identification of sound sources such as voices or instruments, and particular classes of sounds such as vowels. In everyday life, sounds with similar spectral envelopes are perceived as similar: we recognize a voice or a vowel regardless of pitch and intensity variations, and we recognize the same vowel regardless of whether it is voiced (a spectral envelope applied to a harmonic series) or whispered (a spectral envelope applied to noise). In this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment, we investigated the basis for analysis of spectral envelope by the human brain. Changing either the pitch or the spectral envelope of harmonic sounds produced similar activation within a bilateral network including Heschl's gyrus and adjacent cortical areas in the superior temporal lobe. Changing the spectral envelope of continuously alternating noise and harmonic sounds produced additional right-lateralized activation in superior temporal sulcus (STS). Our findings show that spectral shape is abstracted in superior temporal sulcus, suggesting that this region may have a generic role in the spectral analysis of sounds. These distinct levels of spectral analysis may represent early computational stages in a putative anteriorly directed stream for the categorization of sound.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Sound Localization