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How the brain represents sound elevation

Society for Neuroscience

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IMAGE: (A) This is an example of a silicone mold in a participant's right ear. (B) Spherical array of loudspeakers used for behavioral testing. view more 

Credit: Trapeau & Schönwiesner, JNeurosci (2018)

Changing the shape of human participants' ears has provided new insight into how the brain represents the location of a sound source. The research, published in JNeurosci, highlights the link between sensory encoding and perception.

The ability to locate a sound in space is crucial to identify and respond to changes in the environment. Although it is understood how the brain locates a sound source horizontally, it is less clear how the brain determines how high or low on the vertical plane a sound is emitted.

Régis Trapeau and Marc Schönwiesner addressed this question in men and women by playing pink noise from a spherical array of 23 loudspeakers. An initial functional magnetic resonance imaging session using earphones, which presented the noises recorded from the loudspeakers from the participants' perspectives, showed that activation of the auditory cortex decreased with increasing elevation. Participants were then outfitted with custom silicone molds placed outside each ear canal to disrupt their elevation perception. The researchers found different responses to the same sounds between a second and third imaging session, as participants adjusted to the ear molds, indicating that the auditory cortex does not strictly represent the acoustic environment but also incorporates perception.

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Article: The encoding of sound source elevation in the human auditory cortex

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2530-17.2018

Corresponding author: Régis Trapeau (University of Montreal, Canada), regis.trapeau@umontreal.ca

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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