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Prog Brain Res. 2006;156:269-84.

Affective and linguistic processing of speech prosody: DC potential studies.

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Department of Neurology, Schulthness Klinik, 8008 Zurich, and Department of Neurology, Inselspital, University of Bern, 3010 Bern, Switzerland.


Speech melody or prosody subserves linguistic, emotional, and pragmatic functions in speech communication. Prosodic perception is based on the decoding of acoustic cues with a predominant function of frequency-related information perceived as speaker's pitch. Evaluation of prosodic meaning is a cognitive function implemented in cortical and subcortical networks that generate continuously updated affective or linguistic speaker impressions. Various brain-imaging methods allow delineation of neural structures involved in prosody processing. In contrast to functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques, DC (direct current, slow) components of the EEG directly measure cortical activation without temporal delay. Activation patterns obtained with this method are highly task specific and intraindividually reproducible. Studies presented here investigated the topography of prosodic stimulus processing in dependence on acoustic stimulus structure and linguistic or affective task demands, respectively. Data obtained from measuring DC potentials demonstrated that the right hemisphere has a predominant role in processing emotions from the tone of voice, irrespective of emotional valence. However, right hemisphere involvement is modulated by diverse speech and language-related conditions that are associated with a left hemisphere participation in prosody processing. The degree of left hemisphere involvement depends on several factors such as (i) articulatory demands on the perceiver of prosody (possibly, also the poser), (ii) a relative left hemisphere specialization in processing temporal cues mediating prosodic meaning, and (iii) the propensity of prosody to act on the segment level in order to modulate word or sentence meaning. The specific role of top-down effects in terms of either linguistically or affectively oriented attention on lateralization of stimulus processing is not clear and requires further investigations.

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