Talker normalization in typical Cantonese-speaking listeners and congenital amusics: Evidence from event-related potentials

Jing Shao, Caicai Zhang

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    Despite the lack of invariance in the mapping between the acoustic signal and phonological representation, typical listeners are capable of using information of a talker's vocal characteristics to recognize phonemes, a process known as “talker normalization”. The current study investigated the time course of talker normalization in typical listeners and individuals with congenital amusia, a neurodevelopmental disorder of refined pitch processing. We examined the event-related potentials (ERPs) underling lexical tone processing in 24 Cantonese-speaking amusics and 24 typical listeners (controls) in two conditions: blocked-talker and mixed-talker conditions. The results demonstrated that for typical listeners, effects of talker variability can be observed as early as in the N1 time-window (100–150 ms), with the N1 amplitude reduced in the mixed-talker condition. Significant effects were also found in later components: the N2b/c peaked significantly earlier and the P3a and P3b amplitude was enhanced in the blocked-talker condition relative to the mixed-talker condition, especially for the tone pair that is more difficult to discriminate. These results suggest that the blocked-talker mode of stimulus presentation probably facilitates auditory processing and requires less attentional effort with easier speech categorization than the mixed-talker condition, providing neural evidence for the “active control theory”. On the other hand, amusics exhibited comparable N1 amplitude to controls in both conditions, but deviated from controls in later components. They demonstrated overall later N2b/c peak latency significantly reduced P3a amplitude in the blocked-talker condition and reduced P3b amplitude irrespective of talker conditions. These results suggest that the amusic brain was intact in the auditory processing of talker normalization processes, as reflected by the comparable N1 amplitude, but exhibited reduced automatic attentional switch to tone changes in the blocked-talker condition, as captured by the reduced P3a amplitude, which presumably underlies a previously reported perceptual “anchoring” deficit in amusics. Altogether, these findings revealed the time course of talker normalization processes in typical listeners and extended the finding that conscious pitch processing is impaired in the amusic brain.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number101814
    Number of pages13
    JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019

    User-Defined Keywords

    • Talker normalization
    • Time course
    • Talker variability
    • Congenital amusia
    • Cantonese tone
    • ERPs


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