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J Neurophysiol. 2014 Apr;111(7):1400-8. doi: 10.1152/jn.00690.2013. Epub 2014 Jan 8.

The cortical representation of the speech envelope is earlier for audiovisual speech than audio speech.

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School of Engineering, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland;

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Visual speech can greatly enhance a listener's comprehension of auditory speech when they are presented simultaneously. Efforts to determine the neural underpinnings of this phenomenon have been hampered by the limited temporal resolution of hemodynamic imaging and the fact that EEG and magnetoencephalographic data are usually analyzed in response to simple, discrete stimuli. Recent research has shown that neuronal activity in human auditory cortex tracks the envelope of natural speech. Here, we exploit this finding by estimating a linear forward-mapping between the speech envelope and EEG data and show that the latency at which the envelope of natural speech is represented in cortex is shortened by >10 ms when continuous audiovisual speech is presented compared with audio-only speech. In addition, we use a reverse-mapping approach to reconstruct an estimate of the speech stimulus from the EEG data and, by comparing the bimodal estimate with the sum of the unimodal estimates, find no evidence of any nonlinear additive effects in the audiovisual speech condition. These findings point to an underlying mechanism that could account for enhanced comprehension during audiovisual speech. Specifically, we hypothesize that low-level acoustic features that are temporally coherent with the preceding visual stream may be synthesized into a speech object at an earlier latency, which may provide an extended period of low-level processing before extraction of semantic information.


EEG; TRF; analysis-by-synthesis; latency; multisensory integration

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