Cochlea to categories: The spatiotemporal dynamics of semantic auditory representations

Cogn Neuropsychol. 2021 Oct-Dec;38(7-8):468-489. doi: 10.1080/02643294.2022.2085085. Epub 2022 Jun 21.


How does the auditory system categorize natural sounds? Here we apply multimodal neuroimaging to illustrate the progression from acoustic to semantically dominated representations. Combining magnetoencephalographic (MEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of observers listening to naturalistic sounds, we found superior temporal responses beginning ∼55 ms post-stimulus onset, spreading to extratemporal cortices by ∼100 ms. Early regions were distinguished less by onset/peak latency than by functional properties and overall temporal response profiles. Early acoustically-dominated representations trended systematically toward category dominance over time (after ∼200 ms) and space (beyond primary cortex). Semantic category representation was spatially specific: Vocalizations were preferentially distinguished in frontotemporal voice-selective regions and the fusiform; scenes and objects were distinguished in parahippocampal and medial place areas. Our results are consistent with real-world events coded via an extended auditory processing hierarchy, in which acoustic representations rapidly enter multiple streams specialized by category, including areas typically considered visual cortex.

Keywords: Audition; functional magnetic resonance imaging; magnetoencephalography; naturalistic sounds; representational similarity analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Brain Mapping* / methods
  • Cochlea
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetoencephalography / methods
  • Semantics*