Task-modulated Cortical Representations of Natural Sound Source Categories

Jens Hjortkjær, Tanja Kassuba, Kristoffer H. Madsen, Martin Skov, Hartwig R. Siebner

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In everyday sound environments, we recognize sound sources and events by attending to relevant aspects of an acoustic input. Evidence about the cortical mechanisms involved in extracting relevant category information from natural sounds is, however, limited to speech. Here, we used functional MRI to measure cortical response patterns while human listeners categorized real-world sounds created by objects of different solid materials (glass, metal, wood) manipulated by different sound-producing actions (striking, rattling, dropping). In different sessions, subjects had to identify either material or action categories in the same sound stimuli. The sound-producing action and the material of the sound source could be decoded from multivoxel activity patterns in auditory cortex, including Heschl's gyrus and planum temporale. Importantly, decoding success depended on task relevance and category discriminability. Action categories were more accurately decoded in auditory cortex when subjects identified action information. Conversely, the material of the same sound sources was decoded with higher accuracy in the inferior frontal cortex during material identification. Representational similarity analyses indicated that both early and higher-order auditory cortex selectively enhanced spectrotemporal features relevant to the target category. Together, the results indicate a cortical selection mechanism that favors task-relevant information in the processing of nonvocal sound categories.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)295-306
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2018


  • Auditory cortex
  • Category-based attention
  • fMRI
  • MVPA
  • Natural sounds
  • Object categorization
  • RSA

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