Effects of Noise on the Behavioral and Neural Categorization of Speech


We investigated whether the categorical perception (CP) of speech might also provide a mechanism that aids its perception in noise. We varied signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) [clear, 0 dB, −5 dB] while listeners classified an acoustic-phonetic continuum (/u/ to /a/). Noise-related changes in behavioral categorization were only observed at the lowest SNR. Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) differentiated category vs. category-ambiguous speech by the P2 wave (~180–320 ms). Paralleling behavior, neural responses to speech with clear phonetic status (i.e., continuum endpoints) were robust to noise down to −5 dB SNR, whereas responses to ambiguous tokens declined with decreasing SNR. Results demonstrate that phonetic speech representations are more resistant to degradation than corresponding acoustic representations. Findings suggest the mere process of binning speech sounds into categories provides a robust mechanism to aid figure-ground speech perception by fortifying abstract categories from the acoustic signal and making the speech code more resistant to external interferences.

Publication Title

Frontiers in Neuroscience