Musicians at the Cocktail Party: Neural Substrates of Musical Training During Selective Listening in Multispeaker Situations

Cereb Cortex. 2019 Jul 22;29(8):3253-3265. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhy193.


Musical training has been demonstrated to benefit speech-in-noise perception. It is however unknown whether this effect translates to selective listening in cocktail party situations, and if so what its neural basis might be. We investigated this question using magnetoencephalography-based speech envelope reconstruction and a sustained selective listening task, in which participants with varying amounts of musical training attended to 1 of 2 speech streams while detecting rare target words. Cortical frequency-following responses (FFR) and auditory working memory were additionally measured to dissociate musical training-related effects on low-level auditory processing versus higher cognitive function. Results show that the duration of musical training is associated with a reduced distracting effect of competing speech on target detection accuracy. Remarkably, more musical training was related to a robust neural tracking of both the to-be-attended and the to-be-ignored speech stream, up until late cortical processing stages. Musical training-related increases in FFR power were associated with a robust speech tracking in auditory sensory areas, whereas training-related differences in auditory working memory were linked to an increased representation of the to-be-ignored stream beyond auditory cortex. Our findings suggest that musically trained persons can use additional information about the distracting stream to limit interference by competing speech.

Keywords: MEG; auditory cognition; selective attention; speech.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Music*
  • Noise
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult