A listener’s interpretation of a given speech sound can vary probabilistically from moment to moment. Previous experience (i.e., the contexts in which one has encountered an ambiguous sound) can further influence the interpretation of speech, a phenomenon known as perceptual learning for speech. This study used multivoxel pattern analysis to query how neural patterns reflect perceptual learning, leveraging archival fMRI data from a lexically guided perceptual learning study conducted by Myers and Mesite [Myers, E. B., & Mesite, L. M. Neural systems underlying perceptual adjustment to non-standard speech tokens. Journal of Memory and Language, 76, 80–93, 2014]. In that study, participants first heard ambiguous/s/–/∫/blends in either/s/-biased lexical contexts (epi_ode) or/∫/-biased contexts (refre_ing); subsequently, they performed a phonetic categorization task on tokens from an/asi/–/a∫i/continuum. In the current work, a classifier was trained to distinguish between phonetic categorization trials in which participants heard unambiguous productions of/s/and those in which they heard unambiguous productions of/∫/. The classifier was able to generalize this training to ambiguous tokens from the middle of the continuum on the basis of individual participants’ trialby-trial perception. We take these findings as evidence that perceptual learning for speech involves neural recalibration, such that the pattern of activation approximates the perceived category. Exploratory analyses showed that left parietal regions (supramarginal and angular gyri) and right temporal regions (superior, middle, and transverse temporal gyri) were most informative for categorization. Overall, our results inform an understanding of how moment-to-moment variability in speech perception is encoded in the brain.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cognitive Neuroscience