Norm-based coding of voice identity in human auditory cortex

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Listeners exploit small interindividual variations around a generic acoustical structure to discriminate and identify individuals from their voice—a key requirement for social interactions. The human brain contains temporal voice areas (TVA) [1] involved in an acoustic-based representation of voice identity [2,3,4,5,6], but the underlying coding mechanisms remain unknown. Indirect evidence suggests that identity representation in these areas could rely on a norm-based coding mechanism [4,7,8,9,10,11]. Here, we show by using fMRI that voice identity is coded in the TVA as a function of acoustical distance to two internal voice prototypes (one male, one female)—approximated here by averaging a large number of same-gender voices by using morphing [12]. Voices more distant from their prototype are perceived as more distinctive and elicit greater neuronal activity in voice-sensitive cortex than closer voices—a phenomenon not merely explained by neuronal adaptation [13,14]. Moreover, explicit manipulations of distance-to-mean by morphing voices toward (or away from) their prototype elicit reduced (or enhanced) neuronal activity. These results indicate that voice-sensitive cortex integrates relevant acoustical features into a complex representation referenced to idealized male and female voice prototypes. More generally, they shed light on remarkable similarities in cerebral representations of facial and vocal identity.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1075-80
JournalCurrent Biology
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2013
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