The neural mechanisms of selective attention at a ‘cocktail party'

E. Zion Golumbic, D. Poeppel, C.E. Schroeder

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


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 that way that selective attention governs the brain's representation of speech using a 'Cocktail Party' Paradigm, using direct electrocorticography recordings (ECoG) from the cortical surface in surgical epilepsy patients. Participants attended to long segments of natural speech while ignoring other concurrently presented speech by another speaker. Results: We find that brain activity dynamically tracks speech streams using both low frequency phase and high frequency amplitude fluctuations, and that optimal speech 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 involved in speech processing and attentional control, such as inferior frontal cortex inferior partial lobule, the representation appears to become more 'selective,' in that that there is detectable tracking only of attended by not of ignored speech. This selectivity itself seems to sharpen as a sentence unfolds. Conclusions: Our results provide an empirical basis for the idea that selective attention in a 'Cocktail Party' setting relies on an interplay between bottom-up sensory responses and top-down control, resulting in a dynamic and selective neural representation of attended speech, particularly in higher-order regions. This pattern of results provide a compelling example of 'Active Sensing', a process in which the brain dynamically shapes its internal representation of stimuli, and particularly those of natural and continuous stimuli, according to environmental and contextual demands.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2012
EventThe 21stAnnual Meeting of the Israel Society for Neuroscience (ISFN) - Israel Society for Neuroscience (ISFN), Eilat, Israel
Duration: 15 Dec 201218 Dec 2012 (Website)


ConferenceThe 21stAnnual Meeting of the Israel Society for Neuroscience (ISFN)
Internet address


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