Temporal voice areas exist in autism spectrum disorder but are dysfunctional for voice identity recognition

Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2016 Nov;11(11):1812-1822. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw089. Epub 2016 Jun 30.


The ability to recognise the identity of others is a key requirement for successful communication. Brain regions that respond selectively to voices exist in humans from early infancy on. Currently, it is unclear whether dysfunction of these voice-sensitive regions can explain voice identity recognition impairments. Here, we used two independent functional magnetic resonance imaging studies to investigate voice processing in a population that has been reported to have no voice-sensitive regions: autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Our results refute the earlier report that individuals with ASD have no responses in voice-sensitive regions: Passive listening to vocal, compared to non-vocal, sounds elicited typical responses in voice-sensitive regions in the high-functioning ASD group and controls. In contrast, the ASD group had a dysfunction in voice-sensitive regions during voice identity but not speech recognition in the right posterior superior temporal sulcus/gyrus (STS/STG)-a region implicated in processing complex spectrotemporal voice features and unfamiliar voices. The right anterior STS/STG correlated with voice identity recognition performance in controls but not in the ASD group. The findings suggest that right STS/STG dysfunction is critical for explaining voice recognition impairments in high-functioning ASD and show that ASD is not characterised by a general lack of voice-sensitive responses.

Keywords: auditory; autism spectrum disorder; person identity recognition; superior temporal sulcus; voice recognition.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Asperger Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Asperger Syndrome / psychology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / psychology
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Communication
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Facial Recognition / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Temporal Lobe / physiopathology*
  • Voice* / physiology
  • Young Adult