Tongue corticospinal modulation during attended verbal stimuli: Priming and coarticulation effects

Alessandro D'Ausilio, Joanna Jarmolowska, Pierpaolo Busan, Ilaria Bufalari, Laila Craighero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans perceive continuous speech through interruptions or brief noise bursts cancelling entire phonemes. This robust phenomenon has been classically associated with mechanisms of perceptual restoration. In parallel, recent experimental evidence suggests that the motor system may actively participate in speech perception, even contributing to phoneme discrimination. In the present study we intended to verify if the motor system has a specific role in speech perceptual restoration as well. To this aim we recorded tongue corticospinal excitability during phoneme expectation induced by contextual information. Results showed that phoneme expectation determines an involvement of the individual's motor system specifically implicated in the production of the attended phoneme, exactly as it happens during actual listening of that phoneme, suggesting the presence of a speech imagery-like process. Very interestingly, this motoric phoneme expectation is also modulated by subtle coarticulation cues of which the listener is not consciously aware. Present data indicate that the rehearsal of a specific phoneme requires the contribution of the motor system exactly as it happens during the rehearsal of actions executed by the limbs, and that this process is abolished when an incongruent phonemic cue is presented, as similarly occurs during observation of anomalous hand actions. We propose that altogether these effects indicate that during speech listening an attentional-like mechanism driven by the motor system, based on a feed-forward anticipatory mechanism constantly verifying incoming information, is working allowing perceptual restoration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3670-3676
Number of pages7
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011


  • Coarticulation
  • Perceptual restoration
  • Phoneme expectation
  • Speech listening
  • Tongue corticospinal excitability
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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