Differential representation of speech sounds in the human cerebral hemispheres

Jill B. Firszt, John L. Ulmer, Wolfgang Gaggl

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Various methods in auditory neuroscience have been used to gain knowledge about the structure and function of the human auditory cortical system. Regardless of method, hemispheric differences are evident in the normal processing of speech sounds. This review article, augmented by the authors' own work, provides evidence that asymmetries exist in both cortical and subcortical structures of the human auditory system. Asymmetries are affected by stimulus type, for example, hemispheric activation patterns have been shown to change from right to left cortex as stimuli change from speech to nonspeech. In addition, the presence of noise has differential effects on the contribution of the two hemispheres. Modifications of typical asymmetric cortical patterns occur when pathology is present, as in hearing loss or tinnitus. We show that in response to speech sounds, individuals with unilateral hearing loss lose the normal asymmetric pattern due to both a decrease in contralateral hemispheric activity and an increase in the ipsilateral hemisphere. These studies demonstrate the utility of modern neuroimaging techniques in functional investigations of the human auditory system. Neuroimaging techniques may provide additional insight as to how the cortical auditory pathways change with experience, including sound deprivation (e.g., hearing loss) and sound experience (e.g., training). Such investigations may explain why some populations appear to be more vulnerable to changes in hemispheric symmetry such as children with learning problems and the elderly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-357
Number of pages13
JournalAnatomical Record - Part A Discoveries in Molecular, Cellular, and Evolutionary Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2006


  • Auditory cortex
  • Electrophysiology
  • Hemispheric asymmetry
  • Lateralization
  • Neuroimaging
  • Sound perception


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