Neural tracking of the speech envelope is differentially modulated by attention and language experience

Brain Lang. 2021 Feb:213:104891. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2020.104891. Epub 2020 Dec 5.


The ability to selectively attend to a speech signal amid competing sounds is a significant challenge, especially for listeners trying to comprehend non-native speech. Attention is critical to direct neural processing resources to the most essential information. Here, neural tracking of the speech envelope of an English story narrative and cortical auditory evoked potentials (CAEPs) to non-speech stimuli were simultaneously assayed in native and non-native listeners of English. Although native listeners exhibited higher narrative comprehension accuracy, non-native listeners exhibited enhanced neural tracking of the speech envelope and heightened CAEP magnitudes. These results support an emerging view that although attention to a target speech signal enhances neural tracking of the speech envelope, this mechanism itself may not confer speech comprehension advantages. Our findings suggest that non-native listeners may engage neural attentional processes that enhance low-level acoustic features, regardless if the target signal contains speech or non-speech information.

Keywords: Amplitude envelope; Attention; Language experience; Neural speech tracking; Speech comprehension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Comprehension
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory
  • Humans
  • Language
  • Speech Perception*
  • Speech*