On the spatial organization of sound processing in the human temporal lobe: a meta-analysis

Neuroimage. 2012 Oct 15;63(1):137-47. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.06.025. Epub 2012 Jun 23.


In analogy to visual object recognition, proposals have been made that auditory object recognition is organized by sound class (e.g., vocal/non-vocal, linguistic/non-linguistic) and linked to several pathways or processing streams with specific functions. To test these proposals, we analyzed temporal lobe activations from 297 neuroimaging studies on vocal, musical and environmental sound processing. We found that all sound classes elicited activations anteriorly, posteriorly and ventrally of primary auditory cortex. However, rather than being sound class (e.g., voice) or attribute (e.g., complexity) specific, these processing streams correlated with sound knowledge or experience. Specifically, an anterior stream seemed to support general, sound class independent sound recognition and discourse-level semantic processing. A posterior stream could be best explained as supporting the embodiment of sound associated actions and a ventral stream as supporting multimodal conceptual representations. Vocalizations and music engaged these streams evenly in the left and right hemispheres, whereas environmental sounds produced a left-lateralized pattern. Together, these results both challenge and confirm existing proposal of temporal lobe specialization. Moreover, they suggest that the temporal lobe maintains the neuroanatomical building blocks for an all-purpose sound comprehension system that, instead of being preset for a particular sound class, is shaped in interaction with an individual's sonic environment.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Physiological / physiology*
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*