Prediction in the service of comprehension: modulated early brain responses to omitted speech segments

Cortex. 2014 Apr;53:9-26. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2014.01.001. Epub 2014 Jan 15.


Speech signals are often compromised by disruptions originating from external (e.g., masking noise) or internal (e.g., inaccurate articulation) sources. Speech comprehension thus entails detecting and replacing missing information based on predictive and restorative neural mechanisms. The present study targets predictive mechanisms by investigating the influence of a speech segment's predictability on early, modality-specific electrophysiological responses to this segment's omission. Predictability was manipulated in simple physical terms in a single-word framework (Experiment 1) or in more complex semantic terms in a sentence framework (Experiment 2). In both experiments, final consonants of the German words Lachs ([laks], salmon) or Latz ([lats], bib) were occasionally omitted, resulting in the syllable La ([la], no semantic meaning), while brain responses were measured with multi-channel electroencephalography (EEG). In both experiments, the occasional presentation of the fragment La elicited a larger omission response when the final speech segment had been predictable. The omission response occurred ∼125-165 msec after the expected onset of the final segment and showed characteristics of the omission mismatch negativity (MMN), with generators in auditory cortical areas. Suggestive of a general auditory predictive mechanism at work, this main observation was robust against varying source of predictive information or attentional allocation, differing between the two experiments. Source localization further suggested the omission response enhancement by predictability to emerge from left superior temporal gyrus and left angular gyrus in both experiments, with additional experiment-specific contributions. These results are consistent with the existence of predictive coding mechanisms in the central auditory system, and suggestive of the general predictive properties of the auditory system to support spoken word recognition.

Keywords: Auditory processing; Omission mismatch negativity (MMN); Predictive coding; Semantic expectation; Source localization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Semantics
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult