Auditory Working Memory Degraded Acoustics EEG / MEG Executive Functions Neural Oscillations Noise-Vocoded Speech Papers Publications Speech

New paper out: Obleser et al., The Jour­nal of Neuroscience

Adverse Lis­ten­ing Con­di­tions and Mem­o­ry Load Dri­ve a Com­mon Alpha Oscil­la­to­ry Network

Whether we are engaged in small talk or try­ing to mem­o­rise a tele­phone num­ber — it is our short-term mem­o­ry that ensures we don’t lose track. But what if the very same mem­o­ry gets addi­tion­al­ly taxed because the words to be remem­bered are hard to understand?

Obleser et al., J Neu­rosci 2012: Alpha oscil­la­tions are enhanced both by mem­o­rised dig­its and by the adverse acoustic con­di­tions that these dig­its had been pre­sent­ed in.
Obleser, J., Woest­mann, M., Hell­bernd, N., Wilsch, A. , Maess, B. (2012). Adverse lis­ten­ing con­di­tions and mem­o­ry load dri­ve a com­mon alpha oscil­la­to­ry net­work. Jour­nal of Neu­ro­science. Sep­tem­ber 5, 2012 • 32(36):12376 –12383


  • Obleser J, Wöst­mann M, Hell­bernd N, Wilsch A, Maess B. Adverse lis­ten­ing con­di­tions and mem­o­ry load dri­ve a com­mon α oscil­la­to­ry net­work. J Neu­rosci. 2012 Sep 5;32(36):12376–83. PMID: 22956828. [Open with Read]
Neural Oscillations Papers Publications Speech

New paper out: “Don’t be enslaved by the enve­lope” – Com­ment on Giraud & Poep­pel (2012)

Today appears a com­ment / opin­ion arti­cle, with a tad bit of fresh evi­dence from our lab, that is main­ly a reply to Anne-Lise Giraud and David Poeppel’s recent “per­spec­tive” arti­cle on Neur­al oscil­la­tions in speech.

We loved that arti­cle, obvi­ous­ly, but after the ini­tial excite­ment, a few con­cerns stuck with us. In essence, the prob­lems are (i) how to define theta for the pur­pos­es of analysing speech com­pre­hen­sion process­es, (ii) not to over­ly focus on the speech enve­lope (i.e., not to neglect spec­tral / fine-struc­ture aspects of speech), and (iii) the unsolved chicken–egg prob­lem of how neur­al entrain­ment and speech intel­li­gi­bil­i­ty real­ly relate to each other.

But read for your­self (It’s pleas­ant­ly short!).


  • Obleser J, Her­rmann B, Hen­ry MJ. Neur­al Oscil­la­tions in Speech: Don’t be Enslaved by the Enve­lope. Front Hum Neu­rosci. 2012 Aug 31;6:250. PMID: 22969717. [Open with Read]
Editorial Notes

AC sum­mer BBQ

Last week we had our first “Audi­to­ry Cog­ni­tion” group sum­mer BBQ. Research assis­tant Christoph Daube brought this amaz­ing cake, sport­ing some anatom­i­cal knowl­edge and some seri­ous patis­serie skills. Thank you, Christoph!

Degraded Acoustics fMRI Noise-Vocoded Speech Papers Publications Speech

New paper in press: Erb et al., Neu­ropsy­cholo­gia [Update]

I am very proud to announce our first paper that was entire­ly planned, con­duct­ed, analysed and writ­ten up since our group has been in exis­tence. Julia joined me as the first PhD stu­dent in Decem­ber 2010, and has since been busy doing awe­some work. Check out her first paper!

Audi­to­ry skills and brain mor­phol­o­gy pre­dict indi­vid­ual dif­fer­ences in adap­ta­tion to degrad­ed speech

Noise-vocod­ed speech is a spec­tral­ly high­ly degrad­ed sig­nal, but it pre­serves the tem­po­ral enve­lope of speech. Lis­ten­ers vary con­sid­er­ably in their abil­i­ty to adapt to this degrad­ed speech sig­nal. Here, we hypoth­e­sized that indi­vid­ual dif­fer­ences in adap­ta­tion to vocod­ed speech should be pre­dictable by non-speech audi­to­ry, cog­ni­tive, and neu­roanatom­i­cal fac­tors. We test­ed eigh­teen nor­mal-hear­ing par­tic­i­pants in a short-term vocod­ed speech-learn­ing par­a­digm (lis­ten­ing to 100 4- band-vocod­ed sen­tences). Non-speech audi­to­ry skills were assessed using ampli­tude mod­u­la­tion (AM) rate dis­crim­i­na­tion, where mod­u­la­tion rates were cen­tered on the speech-rel­e­vant rate of 4 Hz. Work­ing mem­o­ry capac­i­ties were eval­u­at­ed, and struc­tur­al MRI scans were exam­ined for anatom­i­cal pre­dic­tors of vocod­ed speech learn­ing using vox­el-based mor­phom­e­try. Lis­ten­ers who learned faster to under­stand degrad­ed speech showed small­er thresh­olds in the AM dis­crim­i­na­tion task. Anatom­i­cal brain scans revealed that faster learn­ers had increased vol­ume in the left thal­a­mus (pul­v­inar). These results sug­gest that adap­ta­tion to vocod­ed speech ben­e­fits from indi­vid­ual AM dis­crim­i­na­tion skills. This abil­i­ty to adjust to degrad­ed speech is fur­ther­more reflect­ed anatom­i­cal­ly in an increased vol­ume in an area of the thal­a­mus, which is strong­ly con­nect­ed to the audi­to­ry and pre­frontal cor­tex. Thus, indi­vid­ual audi­to­ry skills that are not speech-spe­cif­ic and left thal­a­mus gray mat­ter vol­ume can pre­dict how quick­ly a lis­ten­er adapts to degrad­ed speech. Please be in touch with Julia Erb if you are inter­est­ed in a preprint as soon as we get hold of the final, type­set manuscript.

[Update#1]: Julia has also pub­lished a blog post on her work.

[Update#2] Paper is avail­able here.


  • Erb J, Hen­ry MJ, Eis­ner F, Obleser J. Audi­to­ry skills and brain mor­phol­o­gy pre­dict indi­vid­ual dif­fer­ences in adap­ta­tion to degrad­ed speech. Neu­ropsy­cholo­gia. 2012 Jul;50(9):2154–64. PMID: 22609577. [Open with Read]
Editorial Notes Neural Oscillations Publications

New Pub­lic Sci­ence Weblog by our Max Planck Institute

I am per­son­al­ly not entire­ly con­vinced whether Weblogs will sur­vive as a tool for com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Notwith­stand­ing, I am sup­port­ing the idea of our Insti­tute togeth­er with Ger­man pub­lic sci­ence mag­a­zine “Spek­trum der Wis­senschaft” to start a new blog, enti­tled “Neu­rocog­ni­tion”. It’s host­ed at and I have the hon­our to serve as one of the staff writ­ers there, let’s see where this will take us.

For a start, I let go and wrote about my fas­ci­na­tion with brain oscil­la­tions. Please pre­tend at least to be sur­prised on this choice of topic!

Auditory Cortex Auditory Speech Processing fMRI Papers Publications Speech

New paper out: McGet­ti­gan et al., Neuropsychologia

Last years’s lab guest and long-time col­lab­o­ra­tor Car­olyn McGet­ti­gan has put out anoth­er one:

Speech com­pre­hen­sion aid­ed by mul­ti­ple modal­i­ties: Behav­iour­al and neur­al interactions

I had the plea­sure to be involved ini­tial­ly, when Car­olyn con­ceived a lot of this, and when things came togeth­er in the end. Car­olyn nice­ly demon­strates how vary­ing audio and visu­al clar­i­ty comes togeth­er with the seman­tic ben­e­fits a lis­ten­er can get from the famous Kalikow SPIN (speech in noise) sen­tences. The data high­light pos­te­ri­or STS and the fusiform gyrus as sites for con­ver­gence of audi­to­ry, visu­al and lin­guis­tic information.

Check it out!


  • McGet­ti­gan C, Faulkn­er A, Altarel­li I, Obleser J, Baver­stock H, Scott SK. Speech com­pre­hen­sion aid­ed by mul­ti­ple modal­i­ties: behav­iour­al and neur­al inter­ac­tions. Neu­ropsy­cholo­gia. 2012 Apr;50(5):762–76. PMID: 22266262. [Open with Read]
Auditory Speech Processing Media Publications

3‑D ani­ma­tion of brain acti­va­tions illus­trates the idea of “upstream delegation”

Recent­ly, with a data set dat­ing back to my time in Angela Friederici’s depart­ment, we pro­posed the idea that audi­to­ry sig­nal degra­da­tion would affect the exact con­fig­u­ra­tion of activ­i­ty along the main pro­cess­ing streams of lan­guage, in the supe­ri­or tem­po­ral and infe­ri­or frontal cor­tex. We ten­ta­tive­ly coined this process “upstream del­e­ga­tion”: The acti­va­tions that were dri­ven by increas­ing syn­tac­tic demands, with the chal­lenge of decreas­ing sig­nal qual­i­ty com­ing on top, were all of a sud­den found more “upstream” from where we had locat­ed them with improv­ingsig­nal quality.

In a fas­ci­nat­ing and instruc­tive inter­ac­tive 3‑D ver­sion (Oh, this sound so 1990s but it’s true!) , you can now study and manip­u­late (in the lit­er­al, not the sci­en­tif­ic mis­con­duct-sense) this and var­i­ous oth­er find­ings from Angela’s lab your­self: Fire up Chrome or Fire­fox and Check it out here.
All of this is tak­en from a recent review by Angela [Friederi­ci, AD (2011) Phys­i­o­log­i­cal Reviews, 91(4), 1357–1392], where she lays out her cur­rent take on infe­ri­or frontal cor­tex, the tracts con­nect­ing to and from it, and its role in syn­tax pro­cess­ing. The funky 3‑D stuff is by Ralph Schu­rade. Don’t ask how long it took us to get all the coor­di­nates in place.
Auditory Working Memory Degraded Acoustics EEG / MEG Events Executive Functions Neural Oscillations Posters Publications

Fur­ther posters at SFN / Neu­ro­science 2011

In addi­tion to the excit­ing con­so­nan­tal mis­match neg­a­tiv­i­ty work Math­ias and Alexan­dra will be show­ing (TUESDAY AM ses­sion, posters UU10 and UU11), we will have the fol­low­ing posters this year. Come by!

Chris Petkov and I are show­ing our brand new data in the TUESDAY PM ses­sion, poster LL14.

I myself will be pre­sent­ing in the WEDNESDAY AM ses­sion, XX15 – more alpha oscil­la­tions in work­ing mem­o­ry under speech degradation.

Final­ly, I also have the plea­sure to be a co-author on Sarah Jessen’s, who is show­ing très cool mul­ti­modal inte­gra­tion data on voic­es and bod­ies under noisy con­di­tions in the WEDNESDAY PM ses­sion, XX15.