Helsingin yliopisto


Helsingin yliopiston verkkojulkaisut

University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006

Cortical processing of speech and non-speech sounds in adults and newborns

Anu Kujala

Doctoral dissertation, December 2006.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, Department of Psychology and BioMag Laboratory, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland.

Comprehension of a complex acoustic signal - speech - is vital for human communication, with numerous brain processes required to convert the acoustics into an intelligible message. In four studies in the present thesis, cortical correlates for different stages of speech processing in a mature linguistic system of adults were investigated. In two further studies, developmental aspects of cortical specialisation and its plasticity in adults were examined. In the present studies, electroencephalographic (EEG) and magnetoencephalographic (MEG) recordings of the mismatch negativity (MMN) response elicited by changes in repetitive unattended auditory events and the phonological mismatch negativity (PMN) response elicited by unexpected speech sounds in attended speech inputs served as the main indicators of cortical processes.

Changes in speech sounds elicited the MMNm, the magnetic equivalent of the electric MMN, that differed in generator loci and strength from those elicited by comparable changes in non-speech sounds, suggesting intra- and interhemispheric specialisation in the processing of speech and non-speech sounds at an early automatic processing level. This neuronal specialisation for the mother tongue was also reflected in the more efficient formation of stimulus representations in auditory sensory memory for typical native-language speech sounds compared with those formed for unfamiliar, non-prototype speech sounds and simple tones. Further, adding a speech or non-speech sound context to syllable changes was found to modulate the MMNm strength differently in the left and right hemispheres. Following the acoustic-phonetic processing of speech input, phonological effort related to the selection of possible lexical (word) candidates was linked with distinct left-hemisphere neuronal populations. In summary, the results suggest functional specialisation in the neuronal substrates underlying different levels of speech processing. Subsequently, plasticity of the brain's mature linguistic system was investigated in adults, in whom representations for an aurally-mediated communication system, Morse code, were found to develop within the same hemisphere where representations for the native-language speech sounds were already located. Finally, recording and localization of the MMNm response to changes in speech sounds was successfully accomplished in newborn infants, encouraging future MEG investigations on, for example, the state of neuronal specialisation at birth.

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Last updated 22.11.2006

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