The effects of selective attention and speech acoustics on neural speech-tracking in a multi-talker scene

Johanna M. Rimmele, Elana Zion Golumbic, Erich Schröger, David Poeppel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Attending to one speaker in multi-speaker situations is challenging. One neural mechanism proposed to underlie the ability to attend to a particular speaker is phase-locking of low-frequency activity in auditory cortex to speech's temporal envelope ("speech-tracking"), which is more precise for attended speech. However, it is not known what brings about this attentional effect, and specifically if it reflects enhanced processing of the fine structure of attended speech. To investigate this question we compared attentional effects on speech-tracking of natural versus vocoded speech which preserves the temporal envelope but removes the fine structure of speech. Pairs of natural and vocoded speech stimuli were presented concurrently and participants attended to one stimulus and performed a detection task while ignoring the other stimulus. We recorded magnetoencephalography (MEG) and compared attentional effects on the speech-tracking response in auditory cortex. Speech-tracking of natural, but not vocoded, speech was enhanced by attention, whereas neural tracking of ignored speech was similar for natural and vocoded speech. These findings suggest that the more precise speech-tracking of attended natural speech is related to processing its fine structure, possibly reflecting the application of higher-order linguistic processes. In contrast, when speech is unattended its fine structure is not processed to the same degree and thus elicits less precise speech-tracking more similar to vocoded speech.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-154
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Auditory cortex
  • Fine structure
  • Linguistic
  • Predictions
  • Speech envelope

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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