Development typically leads to optimized and adaptive neural mechanisms for the processing of voice and speech. In this fMRI study we investigated how this adaptive processing reaches its mature efficiency by examining the effects of task, age and phonological skills on cortical responses to voice and speech in children (8-9years), adolescents (14-15years) and adults. Participants listened to vowels (/a/, /i/, /u/) spoken by different speakers (boy, girl, man) and performed delayed-match-to-sample tasks on vowel and speaker identity. Across age groups, similar behavioral accuracy and comparable sound evoked auditory cortical fMRI responses were observed. Analysis of task-related modulations indicated a developmental enhancement of responses in the (right) superior temporal cortex during the processing of speaker information. This effect was most evident through an analysis based on individually determined voice sensitive regions. Analysis of age effects indicated that the recruitment of regions in the temporal-parietal cortex and posterior cingulate/cingulate gyrus decreased with development. Beyond age-related changes, the strength of speech-evoked activity in left posterior and right middle superior temporal regions significantly scaled with individual differences in phonological skills. Together, these findings suggest a prolonged development of the cortical functional network for speech and voice processing. This development includes a progressive refinement of the neural mechanisms for the selection and analysis of auditory information relevant to the ongoing behavioral task.
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- Auditory cortex, Brain development, fMRI, Language, Phonological skills, FUNCTIONAL BRAIN-DEVELOPMENT, SENSORY-MOTOR INTEGRATION, SPOKEN WORD RECOGNITION, VERBAL WORKING-MEMORY, HUMAN AUDITORY-CORTEX, SHORT-TERM-MEMORY, INTERINDIVIDUAL VARIABILITY, INTERACTIVE SPECIALIZATION, LANGUAGE COMPREHENSION, PHONEMIC PERCEPTION