The motor system’s [modest] contribution to speech perception

  • Ryan C. StokesEmail author
  • Jonathan H. Venezia
  • Gregory Hickok


Recent evidence suggests that the motor system may have a facilitatory role in speech perception during noisy listening conditions. Studies clearly show an association between activity in auditory and motor speech systems, but also hint at a causal role for the motor system in noisy speech perception. However, in the most compelling "causal" studies performance was only measured at a single signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). If listening conditions must be noisy to invoke causal motor involvement, then effects will be contingent on the SNR at which they are tested. We used articulatory suppression to disrupt motor-speech areas while measuring phonemic identification across a range of SNRs. As controls, we also measured phoneme identification during passive listening, mandible gesturing, and foot-tapping conditions. Two-parameter (threshold, slope) psychometric functions were fit to the data in each condition. Our findings indicate: (1) no effect of experimental task on psychometric function slopes; (2) a small effect of articulatory suppression, in particular, on psychometric function thresholds. The size of the latter effect was 1 dB (~5% correct) on average, suggesting, at best, a minor modulatory role of the speech motor system in perception.


Speech Motor theory of speech perception Motor cortex Articulatory suppression 



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© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ryan C. Stokes
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jonathan H. Venezia
    • 1
  • Gregory Hickok
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Cognitive Sciences Social and Behavioral Sciences GatewayUniversity of California - IrvineIrvineUSA

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