The role of actions in auditory object discrimination
AUTHORS: De Lucia M, Camen C, Clarke S, Murray MM
NeuroImage, 48(2): 475-85., November 2009
Action representations can interact with object recognition processes. For example, so-called mirror neurons respond both when performing an action and when seeing or hearing such actions. Investigations of auditory object processing have largely focused on categorical discrimination, which begins within the initial 100 ms post-stimulus onset and subsequently engages distinct cortical networks. Whether action representations themselves contribute to auditory object recognition and the precise kinds of actions recruiting the auditory-visual mirror neuron system remain poorly understood. We applied electrical neuroimaging analyses to auditory evoked potentials (AEPs) in response to sounds of man-made objects that were further subdivided between sounds conveying a socio-functional context and typically cuing a responsive action by the listener (e.g. a ringing telephone) and those that are not linked to such a context and do not typically elicit responsive actions (e.g. notes on a piano). This distinction was validated psychophysically by a separate cohort of listeners. Beginning approximately 300 ms, responses to such context-related sounds significantly differed from context-free sounds both in the strength and topography of the electric field. This latency is >200 ms subsequent to general categorical discrimination. Additionally, such topographic differences indicate that sounds of different action sub-types engage distinct configurations of intracranial generators. Statistical analysis of source estimations identified differential activity within premotor and inferior (pre)frontal regions (Brodmann’s areas (BA) 6, BA8, and BA45/46/47) in response to sounds of actions typically cuing a responsive action. We discuss our results in terms of a spatio-temporal model of auditory object processing and the interplay between semantic and action representations.