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Cereb Cortex. 2015 Nov;25(11):4638-50. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhv134. Epub 2015 Jun 19.

Feel the Noise: Relating Individual Differences in Auditory Imagery to the Structure and Function of Sensorimotor Systems.

Author information

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience Center for Psychology, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal.
Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience Department of Psychology, Royal Holloway University of London, London, UK.
Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.
Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience Department of Otolaryngology, University of California, San Francisco, USA.
Department of Psychology, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, USA.
Faculty of Brain Sciences, University College London, London, UK.


Humans can generate mental auditory images of voices or songs, sometimes perceiving them almost as vividly as perceptual experiences. The functional networks supporting auditory imagery have been described, but less is known about the systems associated with interindividual differences in auditory imagery. Combining voxel-based morphometry and fMRI, we examined the structural basis of interindividual differences in how auditory images are subjectively perceived, and explored associations between auditory imagery, sensory-based processing, and visual imagery. Vividness of auditory imagery correlated with gray matter volume in the supplementary motor area (SMA), parietal cortex, medial superior frontal gyrus, and middle frontal gyrus. An analysis of functional responses to different types of human vocalizations revealed that the SMA and parietal sites that predict imagery are also modulated by sound type. Using representational similarity analysis, we found that higher representational specificity of heard sounds in SMA predicts vividness of imagery, indicating a mechanistic link between sensory- and imagery-based processing in sensorimotor cortex. Vividness of imagery in the visual domain also correlated with SMA structure, and with auditory imagery scores. Altogether, these findings provide evidence for a signature of imagery in brain structure, and highlight a common role of perceptual-motor interactions for processing heard and internally generated auditory information.


auditory imagery; auditory processing; fMRI; supplementary motor area; voxel-based morphometry

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