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Keywords:

  • prosody;
  • contrastive focus;
  • hemispheric specialization;
  • speech perception;
  • ventral and dorsal networks;
  • internal models

This functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study aimed at examining the cerebral regions involved in the auditory perception of prosodic focus using a natural focus detection task. Two conditions testing the processing of simple utterances in French were explored, narrow-focused versus broad-focused. Participants performed a correction detection task. The utterances in both conditions had exactly the same segmental, lexical, and syntactic contents, and only differed in their prosodic realization. The comparison between the two conditions therefore allowed us to examine processes strictly associated with prosodic focus processing. To assess the specific effect of pitch on hemispheric specialization, a parametric analysis was conducted using a parameter reflecting pitch variations specifically related to focus. The comparison between the two conditions reveals that brain regions recruited during the detection of contrastive prosodic focus can be described as a right-hemisphere dominant dual network consisting of (a) ventral regions which include the right posterosuperior temporal and bilateral middle temporal gyri and (b) dorsal regions including the bilateral inferior frontal, inferior parietal and left superior parietal gyri. Our results argue for a dual stream model of focus perception compatible with the asymmetric sampling in time hypothesis. They suggest that the detection of prosodic focus involves an interplay between the right and left hemispheres, in which the computation of slowly changing prosodic cues in the right hemisphere dynamically feeds an internal model concurrently used by the left hemisphere, which carries out computations over shorter temporal windows. Hum Brain Mapp 34:2574–2591, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.