Phoneme and word recognition in the auditory ventral stream

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Feb 21;109(8):E505-14. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1113427109. Epub 2012 Feb 1.


Spoken word recognition requires complex, invariant representations. Using a meta-analytic approach incorporating more than 100 functional imaging experiments, we show that preference for complex sounds emerges in the human auditory ventral stream in a hierarchical fashion, consistent with nonhuman primate electrophysiology. Examining speech sounds, we show that activation associated with the processing of short-timescale patterns (i.e., phonemes) is consistently localized to left mid-superior temporal gyrus (STG), whereas activation associated with the integration of phonemes into temporally complex patterns (i.e., words) is consistently localized to left anterior STG. Further, we show left mid- to anterior STG is reliably implicated in the invariant representation of phonetic forms and that this area also responds preferentially to phonetic sounds, above artificial control sounds or environmental sounds. Together, this shows increasing encoding specificity and invariance along the auditory ventral stream for temporally complex speech sounds.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Phonetics*