Motor speech perception modulates the cortical language areas

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Abstract

Traditionally, the left frontal and parietal lobes have been associated with language production while regions in the temporal lobe are seen as crucial for language comprehension. However, recent evidence suggests that the classical language areas constitute an integrated network where each area plays a crucial role both in speech production and perception. We used functional MRI to examine whether observing speech motor movements (without auditory speech) relative to non-speech motor movements preferentially activates the cortical speech areas. Furthermore, we tested whether the activation in these regions was modulated by task difficulty. This dissociates between areas that are actively involved with speech perception from regions that show an obligatory activation in response to speech movements (e.g. areas that automatically activate in preparation for a motoric response). Specifically, we hypothesized that regions involved with decoding oral speech would show increasing activation with increasing difficulty. We found that speech movements preferentially activate the frontal and temporal language areas. In contrast, non-speech movements preferentially activate the parietal region. Degraded speech stimuli increased both frontal and parietal lobe activity but did not differentially excite the temporal region. These findings suggest that the frontal language area plays a role in visual speech perception and highlight the differential roles of the classical speech and language areas in processing others' motor speech movements.

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