Amplified induced neural oscillatory activity predicts musicians’ benefits in categorical speech perception


Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) reveal musical experience refines neural encoding and confers stronger categorical perception (CP) and neural organization for speech sounds. In addition to evoked brain activity, the human EEG can be decomposed into induced (non-phase-locked) responses whose various frequency bands reflect different mechanisms of perceptual-cognitive processing. Here, we aimed to clarify which spectral properties of these neural oscillations are most prone to music-related neuroplasticity and which are linked to behavioral benefits in the categorization of speech. We recorded electrical brain activity while musicians and nonmusicians rapidly identified speech tokens from a sound continuum. Time-frequency analysis parsed evoked and induced EEG into alpha- (∼10 Hz), beta- (∼20 Hz), and gamma- (>30 Hz) frequency bands. We found that musicians’ enhanced behavioral CP was accompanied by improved evoked speech responses across the frequency spectrum, complementing previously observed enhancements in evoked potential studies (i.e., ERPs). Brain-behavior correlations implied differences in the underlying neural mechanisms supporting speech CP in each group: modulations in induced gamma power predicted the slope of musicians’ speech identification functions whereas early evoked alpha activity predicted behavior in nonmusicians. Collectively, findings indicate that musical training tunes speech processing via two complementary mechanisms: (i) strengthening the formation of auditory object representations for speech signals (gamma-band) and (ii) improving network control and/or the matching of sounds to internalized memory templates (alpha/beta-band). Both neurobiological enhancements may be deployed behaviorally and account for musicians’ benefits in the perceptual categorization of speech.

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