The human auditory brainstem response to running speech reveals a subcortical mechanism for selective attention

Antonio Elia Forte, Octave Etard, Tobias Reichenbach*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Humans excel at selectively listening to a target speaker in background noise such as competing voices. While the encoding of speech in the auditory cortex is modulated by selective attention, it remains debated whether such modulation occurs already in subcortical auditory structures. Investigating the contribution of the human brainstem to attention has, in particular, been hindered by the tiny amplitude of the brainstem response. Its measurement normally requires a large number of repetitions of the same short sound stimuli, which may lead to a loss of attention and to neural adaptation. Here we develop a mathematical method to measure the auditory brainstem response to running speech, an acoustic stimulus that does not repeat and that has a high ecological validity. We employ this method to assess the brainstem’s activity when a subject listens to one of two competing speakers, and show that the brainstem response is consistently modulated by attention.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere27203
JournaleLife
Volume6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2017

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