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J Neurophysiol. 2011 May;105(5):2448-56. doi: 10.1152/jn.00291.2010. Epub 2011 Feb 23.

Contextual cuing contributes to the independent modification of multiple internal models for vocal control.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3C5 Canada.


Research on the control of visually guided limb movements indicates that the brain learns and continuously updates an internal model that maps the relationship between motor commands and sensory feedback. A growing body of work suggests that an internal model that relates motor commands to sensory feedback also supports vocal control. There is evidence from arm-reaching studies that shows that when provided with a contextual cue, the motor system can acquire multiple internal models, which allows an animal to adapt to different perturbations in diverse contexts. In this study we show that trained singers can rapidly acquire multiple internal models regarding voice fundamental frequency (F(0)). These models accommodate different perturbations to ongoing auditory feedback. Participants heard three musical notes and reproduced each one in succession. The musical targets could serve as a contextual cue to indicate which direction (up or down) feedback would be altered on each trial; however, participants were not explicitly instructed to use this strategy. When participants were gradually exposed to altered feedback adaptation was observed immediately following vocal onset. Aftereffects were target specific and did not influence vocal productions on subsequent trials. When target notes were no longer a contextual cue, adaptation occurred during altered feedback trials and evidence for trial-by-trial adaptation was found. These findings indicate that the brain is exceptionally sensitive to the deviations between auditory feedback and the predicted consequence of a motor command during vocalization. Moreover, these results indicate that, with contextual cues, the vocal control system may maintain multiple internal models that are capable of independent modification during different tasks or environments.

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