The neural processing of foreign-accented speech and its relationship to listener bias
Keywordsprimary auditory cortex
Implicit Association Test
inferior frontal gyrus
Full recordShow full item record
AbstractForeign-accented speech often presents a challenging listening condition. In addition to deviations from the target speech norms related to the inexperience of the nonnative speaker, listener characteristics may play a role in determining intelligibility levels. We have previously shown that an implicit visual bias for associating East Asian faces and foreignness predicts the listeners’ perceptual ability to process Korean-accented English audiovisual speech (Yi et al., 2013). Here, we examine the neural mechanism underlying the influence of listener bias to foreign faces on speech perception. In a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, native English speakers listened to native- and Korean-accented English sentences, with or without faces. The participants’ Asian-foreign association was measured using an implicit association test (IAT), conducted outside the scanner. We found that foreign-accented speech evoked greater activity in the bilateral primary auditory cortices and the inferior frontal gyri, potentially reflecting greater computational demand. Higher IAT scores, indicating greater bias, were associated with increased BOLD response to foreign-accented speech with faces in the primary auditory cortex, the early node for spectrotemporal analysis. We conclude the following: (1) foreign-accented speech perception places greater demand on the neural systems underlying speech perception; (2) face of the talker can exaggerate the perceived foreignness of foreign-accented speech; (3) implicit Asian-foreign association is associated with decreased neural efficiency in early spectrotemporal processing.