Selective attention to sound location or pitch studied with fMRI

Brain Res. 2006 Mar 10;1077(1):123-34. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2006.01.025. Epub 2006 Mar 3.


We used 3-T functional magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brain mechanisms underlying selective attention to sound location and pitch. In different tasks, the subjects (N = 10) attended to a designated sound location or pitch or to pictures presented on the screen. In the Attend Location conditions, the sound location varied randomly (left or right), while the pitch was kept constant (high or low). In the Attend Pitch conditions, sounds of randomly varying pitch (high or low) were presented at a constant location (left or right). Both attention to location and attention to pitch produced enhanced activity (in comparison with activation caused by the same sounds when attention was focused on the pictures) in widespread areas of the superior temporal cortex. Attention to either sound feature also activated prefrontal and inferior parietal cortical regions. These activations were stronger during attention to location than during attention to pitch. Attention to location but not to pitch produced a significant increase of activation in the premotor/supplementary motor cortices of both hemispheres and in the right prefrontal cortex, while no area showed activity specifically related to attention to pitch. The present results suggest some differences in the attentional selection of sounds on the basis of their location and pitch consistent with the suggested auditory "what" and "where" processing streams.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Pitch Discrimination / physiology*
  • Pitch Perception / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Sound Localization / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology