Auditory Neuroscience Auditory Perception fMRI Linguistics Papers Publications Speech

New paper out: “Upstream del­e­ga­tion” for pro­cess­ing of com­plex syn­tax under degrad­ed acoustics

A new paper is about to appear in Neu­roim­age on the inter­ac­tion of syn­tac­tic com­plex­i­ty and acoustic degradation.

It is writ­ten by myself, PhD stu­dent Lars Mey­er, and Angela Friederi­ci. In a way, the paper brings togeth­er one of Angela’s main research ques­tions (which brain cir­cuits medi­ate the pro­cess­ing of syn­tax?) with a long-stand­ing inter­est of mine, that is, how do adverse lis­ten­ing sit­u­a­tions affect the com­pre­hen­sion of speech.

The paper is entitled

Dynam­ic assign­ment of neur­al resources in audi­to­ry com­pre­hen­sion of com­plex sentences

The paper first estab­lish­es that acoustic vari­ants of increas­ing­ly com­plex sen­tences essen­tial­ly behave like writ­ten ver­sions of these sentences.
The data then neat­ly show that pro­cess­ing chal­leng­ing (but legal) syn­tax under var­i­ous lev­els of degra­da­tion has a very dif­fer­ent effect on the neur­al cir­cuits involved than prof­it­ing from seman­tics: While the lat­ter has been shown pre­vi­ous­ly to involve more wide­spread, het­ero­modal brain areas, the dou­ble demand of increas­ing­ly com­plex syn­tax and an increas­ing­ly degrad­ed speech sig­nal (from which the com­plex syn­tax has to be parsed) elic­it an “upstream” shift of acti­va­tion back to less abstract pro­cess­ing areas in the supe­ri­or tem­po­ral and prefrontal/frontal cortex.

We ten­ta­tive­ly have termed this process “upstream del­e­ga­tion”. We have also tried and estab­lished a slight­ly unusu­al method to do jus­tice to the fMRI acti­va­tion data: We have includ­ed all z‑scores gath­ered along cer­tain spa­tial dimen­sions, irre­spec­tive of whether they were sub- or suprathresh­old, and have treat­ed them as dis­tri­b­u­tions. Check it out and let us know what you think.


  • Obleser J, Mey­er L, Friederi­ci AD. Dynam­ic assign­ment of neur­al resources in audi­to­ry com­pre­hen­sion of com­plex sen­tences. Neu­roim­age. 2011 Jun 15;56(4):2310–20. PMID: 21421059. [Open with Read]