Understanding the mechanisms of familiar voice-identity recognition in the human brain

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Humans have a remarkable skill for voice-identity recognition: most of us can remember many voices that surround us as ‘unique’. In this review, we explore the computational and neural mechanisms which may support our ability to represent and recognise a unique voice-identity. We examine the functional architecture of voice-sensitive regions in the superior temporal gyrus/sulcus, and bring together findings on how these regions may interact with each other, and additional face-sensitive regions, to support voice-identity processing. We also contrast findings from studies on neurotypicals and clinical populations which have examined the processing of familiar and unfamiliar voices. Taken together, the findings suggest that representations of familiar and unfamiliar voices might dissociate in the human brain. Such an observation does not fit well with current models for voice-identity processing, which by-and-large assume a common sequential analysis of the incoming voice signal, regardless of voice familiarity. We provide a revised audio-visual integrative model of voice-identity processing which brings together traditional and prototype models of identity processing. This revised model includes a mechanism of how voice-identity representations are established and provides a novel framework for understanding and examining the potential differences in familiar and unfamiliar voice processing in the human brain.HighlightsFamiliar and unfamiliar voice-identity processing brain mechanisms may dissociate.Current models of voice-identity processing do not yet explain this potential dissociation.We provide an integration of prototype and traditional models of voice-identity processing.We suggest how to include un-/familiar voice-identity processing differences in the model.

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