Attention to visual speech gestures enhances hemodynamic activity in the left planum temporale.
Pekkola J., Ojanen V., Autti T., Jääskeläinen IP., Möttönen R., Sams M.
Observing a speaker's articulatory gestures can contribute considerably to auditory speech perception. At the level of neural events, seen articulatory gestures can modify auditory cortex responses to speech sounds and modulate auditory cortex activity also in the absence of heard speech. However, possible effects of attention on this modulation have remained unclear. To investigate the effect of attention on visual speech-induced auditory cortex activity, we scanned 10 healthy volunteers with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at 3 T during simultaneous presentation of visual speech gestures and moving geometrical forms, with the instruction to either focus on or ignore the seen articulations. Secondary auditory cortex areas in the bilateral posterior superior temporal gyrus and planum temporale were active both when the articulatory gestures were ignored and when they were attended to. However, attention to visual speech gestures enhanced activity in the left planum temporale compared to the situation when the subjects saw identical stimuli but engaged in a nonspeech motion discrimination task. These findings suggest that attention to visually perceived speech gestures modulates auditory cortex function and that this modulation takes place at a hierarchically relatively early processing level.