Mechanisms underlying selective neuronal tracking of attended speech at a "cocktail party"

Elana M. Zion Golumbic, Nai Ding, Stephan Bickel, Peter Lakatos, Catherine A. Schevon, Guy M. McKhann, Robert R. Goodman, Ronald Emerson, Ashesh D. Mehta, Jonathan Z. Simon, David Poeppel, Charles E. Schroeder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

568 Scopus citations


The ability to focus on and understand one talker in a noisy social environment is a critical social-cognitive capacity, whose underlying neuronal mechanisms are unclear. We investigated the manner in which speech streams are represented in brain activity and the way that selective attention governs the brain's representation of speech using a "Cocktail Party"paradigm, coupled with direct recordings from the cortical surface in surgical epilepsy patients. We find that brain activity dynamically tracks speech streams using both low-frequency phase and high-frequency amplitude fluctuations and that optimal encoding likely combines the two. In and near low-level auditory cortices, attention "modulates"the representation by enhancing cortical tracking of attended speech streams, but ignored speech remains represented. In higher-order regions, the representation appears to become more "selective,"in that there is no detectable tracking of ignored speech. This selectivity itself seems to sharpen as a sentence unfolds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)980-991
Number of pages12
Issue number5
StatePublished - 6 Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by MH093061, MH60358, MH086385, DC008342, and DC05660. We thank Dr. Joseph Isler and the other members of the Columbia Oscillations Journal Club for critical comments and advice on this work.


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