NYSCF Innovator Illuminates the Brain Mechanisms of Pitch Perception

The neural process of understanding spoken language is extremely complex. The brain must interpret not only the sounds creating the words spoken, but also detect additional meaning based on different intonations, all within milliseconds during a conversation. NYSCF  Robertson Neuroscience Investigator Dr. Edward Chang and a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco published their latest work explaining how the brain navigates the complicated world of speech intonation processing. The paper, published in Science, described three distinct groups of neurons involved in language processing. One analyzed vocal pitch range, one analyzed the sounds comprising the words themselves, and the third distinguished different intonation patterns.

These findings reveal how the brain begins to dissect the complex stream of sounds that make up speech and identify important cues about the meaning of what is heard.

With these results, the researchers now plan to investigate the complementary question this research begs – how the brain cues the vocal tract to make appropriate and varied vocal intonation changes.

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