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Auditory Working Memory EEG / MEG Executive Functions Neural Oscillations Papers Publications

New Paper by Lim, Wöst­mann, & Obleser in Jour­nal of Neuroscience

Can you atten­tive­ly “high­light” audi­to­ry traces in mem­o­ry? If so, what are poten­tial neur­al mech­a­nisms of it?

Sung-Joo Lim’s paper in J Neurosci;

Selec­tive Atten­tion to Audi­to­ry Mem­o­ry Neu­ral­ly Enhances Per­cep­tu­al Precision

is now avail­able online (full text).

Selec­tive atten­tion to a task-rel­e­vant stim­u­lus facil­i­tates encod­ing of that stim­u­lus into a work­ing mem­o­ry rep­re­sen­ta­tion. It is less clear whether selec­tive atten­tion also improves the pre­ci­sion of a stim­u­lus already rep­re­sent­ed in mem­o­ry. Here, we inves­ti­gate the behav­ioral and neur­al dynam­ics of selec­tive atten­tion to rep­re­sen­ta­tions in audi­to­ry work­ing mem­o­ry (i.e., audi­to­ry objects) using psy­chophys­i­cal mod­el­ing and mod­el-based analy­sis of elec­troen­cephalo­graph­ic sig­nals. Human lis­ten­ers per­formed a syl­la­ble pitch dis­crim­i­na­tion task where two syl­la­bles served as to-be-encod­ed audi­to­ry objects. Valid (vs neu­tral) retroac­tive cues were pre­sent­ed dur­ing reten­tion to allow lis­ten­ers to selec­tive­ly attend to the to-be-probed audi­to­ry object in mem­o­ry. Behav­ioral­ly, lis­ten­ers rep­re­sent­ed audi­to­ry objects in mem­o­ry more pre­cise­ly (expressed by steep­er slopes of a psy­cho­me­t­ric curve) and made faster per­cep­tu­al deci­sions when valid com­pared to neu­tral retrocues were pre­sent­ed. Neu­ral­ly, valid com­pared to neu­tral retrocues elicit­ed a larg­er fron­to­cen­tral sus­tained neg­a­tiv­i­ty in the evoked poten­tial as well as enhanced pari­etal alpha/low-beta oscil­la­to­ry pow­er (9–18 Hz) dur­ing mem­o­ry reten­tion. Crit­i­cal­ly, indi­vid­ual mag­ni­tudes of alpha oscil­la­to­ry pow­er (7–11 Hz) mod­u­la­tion pre­dict­ed the degree to which valid retrocues ben­e­fit­ted indi­vid­u­als’ behav­ior. Our results indi­cate that selec­tive atten­tion to a spe­cif­ic object in audi­to­ry mem­o­ry does ben­e­fit human per­for­mance not by sim­ply reduc­ing mem­o­ry load, but by active­ly engag­ing com­ple­men­tary neur­al resources to sharp­en the pre­ci­sion of the task-rel­e­vant object in memory.


EEG / MEG Neural Oscillations Papers Publications

New paper by Hen­ry, Her­rmann, & Obleser in Jour­nal of Neuroscience

For­mer Oble­ser­lab post­doc Mol­ly Hen­ry with Björn Her­rmann and Jonas Obleser has a new pub­li­ca­tion in press at Jour­nal of Neuroscience.

Neur­al microstates gov­ern per­cep­tion of audi­to­ry input with­out rhyth­mic structure

by Hen­ry, MJ, Her­mann, B, Obleser, J (in press). J Neurosci.

In devi­a­tion from Molly’s for­mer par­a­digms, we here aimed at bet­ter under­stand­ing the role of oscil­la­to­ry (as well as non-oscil­la­to­ry) slow neur­al activ­i­ty in shap­ing audi­to­ry per­cep­tion when the stim­u­lus is devoid of any rhyth­mic structure.

For a change, the sig­nif­i­cance state­ment and a teas­er fig­ure are shown below.


Our abil­i­ty to hear faint sounds fluc­tu­ates togeth­er with slow brain activ­i­ty that syn­chro­nizes with envi­ron­men­tal rhythms. How­ev­er, it is so far not known how brain activ­i­ty at dif­fer­ent time scales might inter­act to influ­ence per­cep­tion when there is no rhythm with which brain activ­i­ty can syn­chro­nize. Here, we used elec­troen­cephalog­ra­phy (EEG) to mea­sure brain activ­i­ty while par­tic­i­pants lis­tened for short silences that inter­rupt­ed ongo­ing noise. We exam­ined brain activ­i­ty in three dif­fer­ent fre­quen­cy bands: delta, theta, and alpha. Par­tic­i­pants’ abil­i­ty to detect gaps depend­ed on dif­fer­ent num­bers of fre­quen­cy bands — some­times one, two, or three — at dif­fer­ent times. Changes in the num­ber of fre­quen­cy bands that pre­dict per­cep­tion are a hall­mark of a com­plex neur­al system.
Auditory Working Memory Degraded Acoustics EEG / MEG Executive Functions Neural Oscillations Papers Publications

[UPDATE] New review paper by Wilsch & Obleser in press: What works in audi­to­ry work­ing memory?

AC alum­na Anna Wilsch (now Uni­ver­si­ty of Old­en­burg) has a new review paper in press in a spe­cial issue on audi­to­ry work­ing mem­o­ry, curat­ed by Jochen Kaiser (Frank­furt) and Michael Brosch (Magde­burg) in “Brain Research”. We pro­vide a review on neur­al oscil­la­to­ry sig­na­tures of (var­i­ous forms of) audi­to­ry short-term memory.

Wilsch, A., Obleser, J. (in press). What works in audi­to­ry work­ing mem­o­ry? A neur­al oscil­la­tions per­spec­tive. Brain Research

Watch out for that spe­cial issue, as it will have an excel­lent ros­ter of col­leagues con­tribut­ing, and we are proud to be part of it.

The abstract is giv­en below.

Work­ing mem­o­ry is a lim­it­ed resource: Brains can only main­tain small amounts of sen­so­ry input (mem­o­ry load) over a brief peri­od of time (mem­o­ry decay). The dynam­ics of slow neur­al oscil­la­tions as record­ed using mag­ne­to- and elec­troen­cephalog­ra­phy (M/EEG) pro­vide a win­dow into the neur­al mechan­ics of these lim­i­ta­tions. Espe­cial­ly oscil­la­tions in the alpha range (8–13 Hz) are a sen­si­tive mark­er for mem­o­ry load. More­over, accord­ing to cur­rent mod­els, the resul­tant work­ing mem­o­ry load is deter­mined by the rel­a­tive noise in the neur­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion of main­tained infor­ma­tion. The audi­to­ry domain allows mem­o­ry researchers to apply and test the con­cept of noise quite lit­er­al­ly: Employ­ing degrad­ed stim­u­lus acoustics increas­es mem­o­ry load and, at the same time, al- lows assess­ing the cog­ni­tive resources required to process speech in noise in an eco­log­i­cal­ly valid and clin­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant way. The present review first sum­ma­rizes recent find­ings on neur­al oscil­la­tions, espe­cial­ly alpha pow­er, and how they reflect mem­o­ry load and mem­o­ry decay in audi­to­ry work­ing mem­o­ry. The focus is specif­i­cal­ly on mem­o­ry load result­ing from acoustic degra­da­tion. These find­ings are then con­trast­ed with con­tex­tu­al fac­tors that ben­e­fit neur­al as well as behav­ioral mark­ers of mem­o­ry per­for­mance, by reduc­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al noise. We end on dis­cussing the func­tion­al role of alpha pow­er in audi­to­ry work­ing mem­o­ry and sug­gest exten­sions of the cur­rent method­olog­i­cal toolkit. 

Check out the arti­cle online.

Editorial Notes Events Posters Publications

See you at SfN

Soci­ety for Neu­ro­science 2015 is com­ing up. Please come and check out our stuff! Also, Jonas will be chair­ing the sym­po­sium on cor­ti­cal encod­ing of com­plex sound (with talks by for­mer PhD stu­dent Julia Erb and for­mer Post­doc Björn Her­rmann) on tues­day morning.

Posters by the Obleser lab:

Tues­day morn­ing Session:
FIEDLER et al., In-ear-EEG …, Board M46
WILSCH et al., Cor­ti­ca pat­terns of alpha pow­er …, Board Y1
Wednes­day after­noon Session:
LIM et al., Evoked respons­es and alpha oscil­la­tions …, Board BB37

See you there.


Auditory Cortex Auditory Neuroscience Auditory Perception EEG / MEG Neural Oscillations Papers Publications Speech

New paper: Her­rmann, Hen­ry, Hae­gens & Obleser in Neuroimage

And again, AC-Alum­ni Björn Her­rmann got a new paper in press / online at Neu­roIm­age on

Tem­po­ral expec­ta­tions and neur­al ampli­tude fluc­tu­a­tions in audi­to­ry cor­tex inter­ac­tive­ly influ­ence perception

Align­ment of neur­al oscil­la­tions with tem­po­ral­ly reg­u­lar input allows lis­ten­ers to gen­er­ate tem­po­ral expec­ta­tions. How­ev­er, it remains unclear how behav­ior is gov­erned in the con­text of tem­po­ral vari­abil­i­ty: What role do tem­po­ral expec­ta­tions play, and how do they inter­act with the strength of neur­al oscil­la­to­ry activ­i­ty? Here, human par­tic­i­pants detect­ed near-thresh­old tar­gets in tem­po­ral­ly vari­able acoustic sequences. Tem­po­ral expec­ta­tion strength was esti­mat­ed using an oscil­la­tor mod­el and pre-tar­get neur­al ampli­tudes in audi­to­ry cor­tex were extract­ed from mag­ne­toen­cephalog­ra­phy sig­nals. Tem­po­ral expec­ta­tions mod­u­lat­ed tar­get-detec­tion per­for­mance, how­ev­er, only when neur­al delta-band ampli­tudes were large. Thus, slow neur­al oscil­la­tions act to gate influ­ences of tem­po­ral expec­ta­tion on per­cep­tion. Fur­ther­more, slow ampli­tude fluc­tu­a­tions gov­erned lin­ear and qua­drat­ic influ­ences of audi­to­ry alpha-band activ­i­ty on per­for­mance. By fus­ing a mod­el of tem­po­ral expec­ta­tion with neur­al oscil­la­to­ry dynam­ics, the cur­rent find­ings show that human per­cep­tion in tem­po­ral­ly vari­able con­texts relies on com­plex inter­ac­tions between mul­ti­ple neur­al fre­quen­cy bands.



  • Her­rmann B1, Hen­ry MJ2, Hae­gens S3, Obleser J4. Tem­po­ral expec­ta­tions and neur­al ampli­tude fluc­tu­a­tions in audi­to­ry cor­tex inter­ac­tive­ly influ­ence per­cep­tion. Neu­roim­age. 2015 Sep 18;124(Pt A):487–497. PMID: 26386347. [Open with Read]
Papers Publications

Sen­si­tiv­i­ty of rat infe­ri­or col­licu­lus neu­rons to fre­quen­cy dis­tri­b­u­tions by Her­rmann et al.

New paper in press by AC Alum­ni Björn Her­rman in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ed Bartlett and col­leagues from Pur­due Uni­ver­si­ty on stim­u­lus-sta­tis­ti­cal and stim­u­lus-spe­cif­ic adap­ta­tion in the rat infe­ri­or col­licu­lus that will appear soon in the Jour­nal of Neurophysiology.

Sen­si­tiv­i­ty of rat infe­ri­or col­licu­lus neu­rons to fre­quen­cy distributions

Stim­u­lus-spe­cif­ic adap­ta­tion refers to a neur­al response reduc­tion to a repeat­ed stim­u­lus that does not gen­er­al­ize to oth­er stim­uli. How­ev­er, stim­u­lus-spe­cif­ic adap­ta­tion appears be influ­enced by addi­tion­al fac­tors. For exam­ple, the sta­tis­ti­cal dis­tri­b­u­tion of tone fre­quen­cies has recent­ly been shown to dynam­i­cal­ly alter stim­u­lus-spe­cif­ic adap­ta­tion in human audi­to­ry cor­tex. The cur­rent study inves­ti­gat­ed whether sta­tis­ti­cal stim­u­lus dis­tri­b­u­tions also affect stim­u­lus-spe­cif­ic adap­ta­tion at an ear­li­er stage of the audi­to­ry hier­ar­chy. Neur­al spik­ing activ­i­ty and local field poten­tials were record­ed from infe­ri­or col­licu­lus neu­rons of rats while tones were pre­sent­ed in odd­ball sequences that formed two dif­fer­ent sta­tis­ti­cal con­texts. Each sequence con­sist­ed of a repeat­ed­ly pre­sent­ed tone (stan­dard) and three rare deviants of dif­fer­ent mag­ni­tudes (small, mod­er­ate, large spec­tral change). The crit­i­cal manip­u­la­tion was the rel­a­tive prob­a­bil­i­ty with which large spec­tral changes occurred. In one con­text, the prob­a­bil­i­ty was high (rel­a­tive to all deviants) while it was low in the oth­er con­text. We observed larg­er respons­es for deviants com­pared to stan­dards, con­firm­ing pre­vi­ous reports of increased response adap­ta­tion for fre­quent­ly pre­sent­ed tones. Impor­tant­ly, the sta­tis­ti­cal con­text in which tones were pre­sent­ed strong­ly mod­u­lat­ed stim­u­lus-spe­cif­ic adap­ta­tion. Phys­i­cal­ly and prob­a­bilis­ti­cal­ly iden­ti­cal stim­uli (mod­er­ate deviants) in the two sta­tis­ti­cal con­texts elicit­ed dif­fer­ent respons­es mag­ni­tudes con­sis­tent with neur­al gain changes and thus neur­al sen­si­tiv­i­ty adjust­ments induced by the spec­tral range of a stim­u­lus dis­tri­b­u­tion. The data show that already at the lev­el of the infe­ri­or col­licu­lus stim­u­lus-spe­cif­ic adap­ta­tion is dynam­i­cal­ly altered by the sta­tis­ti­cal con­text in which stim­uli occur.


  • Her­rmann B1, Parthasarathy A2, Han EX, Obleser J3, Bartlett EL2. Sen­si­tiv­i­ty of rat infe­ri­or col­licu­lus neu­rons to fre­quen­cy dis­tri­b­u­tions. J Neu­ro­phys­i­ol. 2015 Sep 9:jn. PMID: 26354316. [Open with Read]
Ageing Auditory Speech Processing Degraded Acoustics Hearing Loss Media Publications Speech

Quick inter­view for detektor.fm

Based on Malte’s recent J Neu­rosci study, Jonas did a brief inter­view for Ger­man radio detektor.fm today and talked lis­ten­ing effort, dig­i­tal phone lines, noise reduc­tion, and next-gen­er­a­tion hear­ing aids with host Tere­sa Nehm. (In Ger­man only.)

Auditory Speech Processing EEG / MEG Linguistics Papers Publications Speech

New edi­to­r­i­al in “Brain & Lan­guage”: Re-vis­it­ing the elec­tro­phys­i­ol­o­gy of language

I had the hon­our of guest-edit­ing a spe­cial issue for the clas­sic jour­nal “Brain and Lan­guage” and have thus con­tributed a brief edi­to­r­i­al (now online) to this issue. The spe­cial issue re-vis­its old themes and new leads in the elec­tro­phys­i­ol­o­gy of speech, lan­guage, and its precursors.

UPDATE: The full spe­cial issue appeared in Sep­tem­ber 2015 and all arti­cles are now acces­si­ble and citable. Thanks for your kind attention!