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Curr Biol. 2006 Oct 10;16(19):1918-23.

Somatosensory precision in speech production.

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McGill University, Montreal, Qu├ębec, Canada.


Speech production is dependent on both auditory and somatosensory feedback. Although audition may appear to be the dominant sensory modality in speech production, somatosensory information plays a role that extends from brainstem responses to cortical control. Accordingly, the motor commands that underlie speech movements may have somatosensory as well as auditory goals. Here we provide evidence that, independent of the acoustics, somatosensory information is central to achieving the precision requirements of speech movements. We were able to dissociate auditory and somatosensory feedback by using a robotic device that altered the jaw's motion path, and hence proprioception, without affecting speech acoustics. The loads were designed to target either the consonant- or vowel-related portion of an utterance because these are the major sound categories in speech. We found that, even in the absence of any effect on the acoustics, with learning subjects corrected to an equal extent for both kinds of loads. This finding suggests that there are comparable somatosensory precision requirements for both kinds of speech sounds. We provide experimental evidence that the neural control of stiffness or impedance--the resistance to displacement--provides for somatosensory precision in speech production.

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