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Nat Neurosci. 2019 Apr;22(4):627-632. doi: 10.1038/s41593-019-0353-z. Epub 2019 Mar 4.

Spontaneous synchronization to speech reveals neural mechanisms facilitating language learning.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, NY, USA. fassaneo@gmail.com.
2
Department of Psychology, New York University, New York, NY, USA.
3
Cognition and Brain Plasticity Unit, IDIBELL, L'Hospitalet de Llobregat, Barcelona, Spain.
4
Department of Cognition, Development and Educational Psychology, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.
5
Institute of Neuroscience, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.
6
ICREA, Barcelona, Spain.
7
Neuroscience Department, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Frankfurt, Germany.

Abstract

We introduce a deceptively simple behavioral task that robustly identifies two qualitatively different groups within the general population. When presented with an isochronous train of random syllables, some listeners are compelled to align their own concurrent syllable production with the perceived rate, whereas others remain impervious to the external rhythm. Using both neurophysiological and structural imaging approaches, we show group differences with clear consequences for speech processing and language learning. When listening passively to speech, high synchronizers show increased brain-to-stimulus synchronization over frontal areas, and this localized pattern correlates with precise microstructural differences in the white matter pathways connecting frontal to auditory regions. Finally, the data expose a mechanism that underpins performance on an ecologically relevant word-learning task. We suggest that this task will help to better understand and characterize individual performance in speech processing and language learning.

PMID:
30833700
PMCID:
PMC6435400
DOI:
10.1038/s41593-019-0353-z
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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