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Reviews in the Neurosciences

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Representation of temporal sound features in the human auditory cortex

1 / John F. Brugge1

1Human Brain Research Laboratory, Department of Neurosurgery, The University of Iowa, 200 Hawkins Dr., Iowa City, IA 52242, USA

Corresponding author

Citation Information: Reviews in the Neurosciences. Volume 22, Issue 2, Pages 187–203, ISSN (Online) 2191-0200, ISSN (Print) 0334-1763, DOI: 10.1515/rns.2011.016, April 2011

Publication History

Published Online:


Temporal information in acoustic signals is important for the perception of environmental sounds, including speech. This review focuses on several aspects of temporal processing within human auditory cortex and its relevance for the processing of speech sounds. Periodic non-speech sounds, such as trains of acoustic clicks and bursts of amplitude-modulated noise or tones, can elicit different percepts depending on the pulse repetition rate or modulation frequency. Such sounds provide convenient methodological tools to study representation of timing information in the auditory system. At low repetition rates of up to 8–10 Hz, each individual stimulus (a single click or a sinusoidal amplitude modulation cycle) within the sequence is perceived as a separate event. As repetition rates increase up to and above approximately 40 Hz, these events blend together, giving rise first to the percept of flutter and then to pitch. The extent to which neural responses of human auditory cortex encode temporal features of acoustic stimuli is discussed within the context of these perceptual classes of periodic stimuli and their relationship to speech sounds. Evidence for neural coding of temporal information at the level of the core auditory cortex in humans suggests possible physiological counterparts to perceptual categorical boundaries for periodic acoustic stimuli. Temporal coding is less evident in auditory cortical fields beyond the core. Finally, data suggest hemispheric asymmetry in temporal cortical processing.

Keywords: amplitude modulation; Heschl’s gyrus; intracranial recording; phase locking; speech; superior temporal gyrus; temporal envelope

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