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The sound of actions as reflected by mismatch negativity: rapid activation of cortical sensory–motor networks by sounds associated with finger and tongue movements


Dr Olaf Hauk, as above.


In order to explore the activation dynamics of the human action recognition system, we investigated electrophysiological distinctions between the brain responses to sounds produced by human finger and tongue movements. Of special interest were the questions of how early these differences may occur, and whether the neural activation at the early stages of processing involves cortical motor representations related to the generation of these sounds. For this purpose we employed a high-density EEG set-up and recorded mismatch negativity (MMN) using a recently developed novel multideviant paradigm which allows acquisition of a high number of trials within a given time period. Deviant stimuli were naturally recorded finger and tongue clicks, as well as control stimuli with similar physical features but without the clear action associations (this was tested in a separate behavioural experiment). Both natural stimuli produced larger MMNs than their respective control stimuli at ∼ 100 ms, indicating activation of memory traces for familiar action-related sounds. Furthermore, MMN topography at this latency differed between the brain responses to the natural finger and natural tongue sounds. Source estimation revealed the strongest sources for finger sounds in centrolateral areas of the left hemisphere, suggesting that hearing a sound related to finger actions evokes activity in motor areas associated with the dominant hand. Furthermore, tongue sounds produced activation in more inferior brain areas. Our data suggest that motor areas in the human brain are part of neural systems subserving the early automatic recognition of action-related sounds.