The ability to focus on and understand one talker in a noisy social environment is a critical social-cognitive capacity, whose underlying neuronal mechanisms are unclear. We investigated the manner in which speech streams are represented in brain activity and the way that selective attention governs the brain's representation of speech using a "Cocktail Party" paradigm, coupled with direct recordings from the cortical surface in surgical epilepsy patients. We find that brain activity dynamically tracks speech streams using both low-frequency phase and high-frequency amplitude fluctuations and that optimal encoding likely combines the two. In and near low-level auditory cortices, attention "modulates" the representation by enhancing cortical tracking of attended speech streams, but ignored speech remains represented. In higher-order regions, the representation appears to become more "selective," in that there is no detectable tracking of ignored speech. This selectivity itself seems to sharpen as a sentence unfolds.
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