Linguistic processing of task-irrelevant speech at a cocktail party

Paz Har-shai Yahav, Elana Zion Golumbic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Paying attention to one speaker in a noisy place can be extremely difficult, because tobe- attended and task-irrelevant speech compete for processing resources. We tested whether this competition is restricted to acoustic-phonetic interference or if it extends to competition for linguistic processing as well. Neural activity was recorded using Magnetoencephalography as human participants were instructed to attend to natural speech presented to one ear, and taskirrelevant stimuli were presented to the other. Task-irrelevant stimuli consisted either of random sequences of syllables, or syllables structured to form coherent sentences, using hierarchical frequency-tagging. We find that the phrasal structure of structured task-irrelevant stimuli was represented in the neural response in left inferior frontal and posterior parietal regions, indicating that selective attention does not fully eliminate linguistic processing of task-irrelevant speech. Additionally, neural tracking of to-be-attended speech in left inferior frontal regions was enhanced when competing with structured task-irrelevant stimuli, suggesting inherent competition between them for linguistic processing.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere65096
StatePublished - 4 May 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Har-shai Yahav and Zion Golumbic.


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