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The Motor Theory of Speech Perception Confirmed: FMRI Evidence
PULVERMULLER, F., Huss, M., Kherif, F., MOSCOSO DEL PRADO MARTIN, F., HAUK, O. & SHTYROV, Y.
Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, A127
Year of publication:
The processing of spoken language has been attributed to areas in superior temporal lobe, where speech stimuli indeed elicit the greatest activation. However, neurobiological and psycholinguistic models have long postulated that knowledge about the articulatory features of individual phonemes play an important role in their perception and in speech comprehension. To probe the possible involvement of specific motor circuits in the speech perception process, we used event-related fMRI and presented experimental subjects with spoken syllables including [p] and [t] sounds, which are respectively produced by movements of the lips or tongue. Physically similar non-linguistic noises were used as control stimuli. In localizer experiments, subjects had to silently articulate the same syllables and, in a second task, move their lips or tongue. Speech perception most strongly activated superior temporal cortex. Critically, however, distinct motor regions in the precentral gyrus sparked by articulatory movements of the lips and tongue were also differentially activated in a somatotopic manner when subjects listened to the lip- or tongue-related phonemes. This shows that, during speech perception, specific motor circuits are recruited that reflect distinctive features of the speech sounds encountered, thus providing direct neuroimaging support for specific links between the phonological mechanisms for speech production and perception as they have been postulated by the Motor Theory Of Speech Perception.