Learning of new sound categories shapes neural response patterns in human auditory cortex

A. Ley*, J. Vroomen, L. Hausfeld, G. Valente, P. de Weerd, E. Formisano

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

29 Downloads (Pure)


The formation of new sound categories is fundamental to everyday goal-directed behavior. Categorization requires the abstraction of discrete classes from continuous physical features as required by context and task. Electrophysiology in animals has shown that learning to categorize novel sounds alters their spatiotemporal neural representation at the level of early auditory cortex. However, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies so far did not yield insight into the effects of category learning on sound representations in human auditory cortex. This may be due to the use of overlearned speech-like categories and fMRI subtraction paradigms, leading to insufficient sensitivity to distinguish the responses to learning-induced, novel sound categories. Here, we used fMRI pattern analysis to investigate changes in human auditory cortical response patterns induced by category learning. We created complex novel sound categories and analyzed distributed activation patterns during passive listening to a sound continuum before and after category learning. We show that only after training, sound categories could be successfully decoded from early auditory areas and that learning-induced pattern changes were specific to the category-distinctive sound feature (i.e., pitch). Notably, the similarity between fMRI response patterns for the sound continuum mirrored the sigmoid shape of the behavioral category identification function. Our results indicate that perceptual representations of novel sound categories emerge from neural changes at early levels of the human auditory processing hierarchy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13273-13280
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number38
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


Dive into the research topics of 'Learning of new sound categories shapes neural response patterns in human auditory cortex'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this