I am an English major currently taking a Psycholinguistics module. One of the things we learned is that speech perception is handled differently from non-speech sound perception. Our brain is trained to break down speech signals more intricately than non-speech information, which is why we are able to distinguish syllable and word boundaries.

Since speech sounds are perceived differently than general sounds, my question is this: do different areas of the brain light up when speech is perceived as opposed to a general sound?

I've spent a few hours Googling this, but I found no answers. The only thing I found is that a particular section of the temporal lobe is responsible for auditory perception.

I would expect that a general sound activates mainly the temporal lobe while hearing speech would activate the temporal lobe and areas of the brain associated with the words currently in the content of the speech.


1 Answer 1


Short answer
The primary auditory cortex is mainly involved in relatively simple processing of sound. The language areas involved in producing and understanding speech are associative auditory cortices and are considered to be areas higher up in the hierarchy. They are connected to the primary auditory cortex, but are situated at anatomically different locations in the brain.

The primary auditory cortex is engaged in the low-level processing of sound. For example, it contains a tonotopic map that is used to separately process the various frequencies in the incoming sound (Purves et al., 2001) (Fig. 1).

The language area involved in production of speech of the brain is called Broca's area (Fig. 1) and is anatomically distinct from the primary auditory cortex.

The part of the brain dealing with understanding speech is Wernicke's area (Fig. 1), and is also a distinct anatomical structure in the brain.

The angular gyrus has also been associated with specific speech production pathologies (Fig. 1).

auditory system
Fig. 1. Central auditory system. source: McGill University

- Purves et al. (eds). Neuroscience, 2nd ed. (2001). Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates

  • $\begingroup$ in general, would being distinct in analogy mean there is distinction in function? $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Oct 4, 2018 at 16:20

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