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When speech is masked by competing sound, people are better at understanding what is said if the talker is familiar compared to unfamiliar. The benefit is robust, but how does processing of familiar voices facilitate intelligibility? We combined high-resolution fMRI with representational similarity analysis to quantify the difference in distributed activity between clear and masked speech. We demonstrate that brain representations of spoken sentences are less affected by a competing sentence when they are spoken by a friend or partner than by someone unfamiliar—effectively, showing a cortical signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) enhancement for familiar voices. This effect correlated with the familiar-voice intelligibility benefit. We functionally parcellated auditory cortex, and found that the most prominent familiar-voice advantage was manifest along the posterior superior and middle temporal gyri. Overall, our results demonstrate that experience-driven improvements in intelligibility are associated with enhanced multivariate pattern activity in posterior temporal cortex.
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Citation of this paper:
Emma Holmes, Ingrid S. Johnsrude, Speech-evoked brain activity is more robust to competing speech when it is spoken by someone familiar, NeuroImage, Volume 237, 2021, 118107, ISSN 1053-8119, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.118107. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811921003840)