Modulations of human alpha oscillations (8-13 Hz) accompany many cognitive processes, but their functional role in auditory perception has proven elusive: Do oscillatory dynamics of alpha reflect acoustic details of the speech signal and are they indicative of comprehension success? Acoustically presented words were degraded in acoustic envelope and spectrum in an orthogonal design, and electroencephalogram responses in the frequency domain were analyzed in 24 participants, who rated word comprehensibility after each trial. First, the alpha power suppression during and after a degraded word depended monotonically on spectral and, to a lesser extent, envelope detail. The magnitude of this alpha suppression exhibited an additional and independent influence on later comprehension ratings. Second, source localization of alpha suppression yielded superior parietal, prefrontal, as well as anterior temporal brain areas. Third, multivariate classification of the time-frequency pattern across participants showed that patterns of late posterior alpha power allowed best for above-chance classification of word intelligibility. Results suggest that both magnitude and topography of late alpha suppression in response to single words can indicate a listener's sensitivity to acoustic features and the ability to comprehend speech under adverse listening conditions.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)