Intrinsic Laryngeal Muscle Activity During Subvocalization

Leah B. Helou, Brett Welch, Wei Wang, Clark A. Rosen, Katherine Verdolini Abbott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Subvocalization, the low-grade activity of speech articulator muscles while thinking or reading, may mediate phonological representations of verbal material. However, no literature exists that directly measures whether intrinsic laryngeal muscles (ILMs) are active during subvocalization. The possibility of ILM activation during subvocalization has implications for establishing appropriate baselines when experimental conditions involve linguistic features. Method: In two separate studies, forty-five cisgender women completed one or two silentsil tasks (two in the first study, Experiments 1a and 1b, and one in the second, Experiment 2). Fine wire electromyography was used to directly measure ILM activity during an at-rest baseline and silent tasks used to determine whether subvocalization occurred (referred to hereafter as “subvocalization tasks”). Other muscles were measured via surface electromyography: submental muscle in Experiments 1a and 1b, anterior tibialis in Experiment 2, and upper trapezius in all experiments. Results: Interrupted time-series analysis was used to directly measure changes in ILM activity from baseline to the subvocalization tasks. A paired two tailed t-test was used to measure mean differences in ILM activity across conditions for each participant. Some individuals displayed statistically significant increases from baseline during subvocalization tasks, whereas others displayed decreases. Cohen's d was used to calculate the effect size for each muscle across the three subvocalization conditions. Of the 21 muscles measured across three experiments, five yielded a small mean effect size, and the effect sizes for the remaining 16 muscles were negligible. At a group level, only the right cricothyroid showed statistically significant changes (Experiment 1b). Conclusion: The ILM responses during subvocalization vary in both magnitude and direction. Most but not all changes can be described as negligible. For future studies of ILM activity during conditions that involve linguistic processing, investigators should consider the idiosyncratic variation during subvocalization when determining the most appropriate baseline task.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Voice
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Intrinsic Laryngeal Muscles
  • Subvocalization


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