Dorsal and ventral pathways for prosody

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Our vocal tone—the prosody—contributes a lot to the meaning of speech beyond the actual words. Indeed, the hesitant tone of a “yes” may be more telling than its affirmative lexical meaning [1]. The human brain contains dorsal and ventral processing streams in the left hemisphere that underlie core linguistic abilities such as phonology, syntax, and semantics [2, 3 and 4]. Whether or not prosody—a reportedly right-hemispheric faculty [5 and 6]—involves analogous processing streams is a matter of debate. Functional connectivity studies on prosody leave no doubt about the existence of such streams [7 and 8], but opinions diverge on whether information travels along dorsal [9] or ventral [10 and 11] pathways. Here we show, with a novel paradigm using audio morphing combined with multimodal neuroimaging and brain stimulation, that prosody perception takes dual routes along dorsal and ventral pathways in the right hemisphere. In experiment 1, categorization of speech stimuli that gradually varied in their prosodic pitch contour (between statement and question) involved (1) an auditory ventral pathway along the superior temporal lobe and (2) auditory-motor dorsal pathways connecting posterior temporal and inferior frontal/premotor areas. In experiment 2, inhibitory stimulation of right premotor cortex as a key node of the dorsal stream decreased participants’ performance in prosody categorization, arguing for a motor involvement in prosody perception. These data draw a dual-stream picture of prosodic processing that parallels the established left-hemispheric multi-stream architecture of language, but with relative rightward asymmetry.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3079-3085
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2015
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