Scanning silence: mental imagery of complex sounds

Nico Bunzeck, Torsten Wuestenberg, Kai Lutz, Hans-Jochen Heinze, Lutz Jancke


In this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, we investigated the neural basis of mental auditory imagery of familiar complex sounds that did not contain language or music. In the first condition (perception), the subjects watched familiar scenes and listened to the corresponding sounds that were presented simultaneously. In the second condition (imagery), the same scenes were presented silently and the subjects had to mentally imagine the appropriate sounds. During the third condition (control), the participants watched a scrambled version of the scenes without sound. To overcome the disadvantages of the stray acoustic scanner noise in auditory fMRI experiments, we applied sparse temporal sampling technique with five functional clusters that were acquired at the end of each movie presentation. Compared to the control condition, we found bilateral activations in the primary and secondary auditory cortices (including Heschl's gyrus and planum temporale) during perception of complex sounds. In contrast, the imagery condition elicited bilateral hemodynamic responses only in the secondary auditory cortex (including the planum temporale). No significant activity was observed in the primary auditory cortex. The results show that imagery and perception of complex sounds that do not contain language or music rely on overlapping neural correlates of the secondary but not primary auditory cortex.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1119-27
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 15.07.2005


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