Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

The Nature of Hemispheric Specialization for Prosody Perception

Academic journal article Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience

The Nature of Hemispheric Specialization for Prosody Perception

Article excerpt

Published online: 11 February 2014

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2014

Abstract Recent evidence suggests a relative righthemispheric specialization for emotional prosody perception, whereas linguistic prosody perception is under bilateral control. It is still unknown, however, how the hemispheric specialization for prosody perception might arise. Two main hypotheses have been put forward. Cue-dependent hypotheses, on the one hand, propose that hemispheric specialization is driven by specialization for the non-prosody-specific processing of acoustic cues. The functional lateralization hypothesis, on the other hand, proposes that hemispheric specialization is dependent on the communicative function of prosody, with emotional and linguistic prosody processing being lateralized to the right and lefthemispheres, respectively. In the present study, the functional lateralization hypothesis of prosody perception was systematically tested by instructing one group of participants to evaluate the emotional prosody, and another group the linguistic prosody dimension of bidimensional prosodic stimuli in a dichotic-listening paradigm, while event-related potentials were recorded. The results showed that the right-ear advantage was associated with decreased latencies for an early negativity in the contralateral hemisphere. No evidence was found for functional lateralization. These findings suggest that functional lateralization effects for prosody perception are small and support the structural model of dichotic listening.

Keywords Prosody .Emotional . Linguistic . Lateralization . Dichotic listening . ERP

Speech prosody is an important means to convey emotions (e.g., indicating whether the speaker is angry or sad) and linguistic structure (e.g., signifying a statement or a question). A longstanding question in the neuropsychological literature has been whether there is hemispheric specialization for the perception of prosody. Recent meta-analytic evidence suggests a relative right-hemispheric specialization for emotional prosody perception, whereas the processing of linguistic prosody seems to be controlled bilaterally (Witteman, van IJzendoorn, van de Velde, van Heuven, & Schiller, 2011).

However, the nature of this relative right-hemispheric specialization for emotional prosody is currently unknown. Two mechanisms have been proposed as to how hemispheric specialization for prosody perception might arise. On the one hand, cue-dependent lateralization hypotheses propose that right-hemisphere specialization for emotional prosody perception can be explained by a (non-prosody-specific) advantage of the right hemisphere for early acoustic processing, such as spectral processing (Van Lancker & Sidtis, 1992), since spectral parameters appear to be particularly important for decoding emotional prosody (Scherer, 2003). Indeed, a recent meta-analysis of the neuroimaging literature of emotional prosody perception revealed preliminary evidence for relative right-hemispheric specialization of the primary and secondary auditory cortex (Witteman, Van Heuven, & Schiller, 2012), which could be interpreted as (indirect) support for the cuedependent lateralization hypothesis.

On the other hand, the functional lateralization hypothesis posits that the right hemisphere is specialized for the processing of the emotional communicative function of emotional prosody (Van Lancker, 1980), whereas the lefthemisphere might be specialized for the processing of linguistic prosodic function. The dynamic dual-pathway model of Friederici and Alter (2004) further suggests that when linguistic prosody is more bound to segments (such as in the case of metrical stress), it is leftlateralized, whereas linguistic prosody at the sentence level (such as boundary marking) is right lateralized. The goal of the present investigation was to systematically test whether functional lateralization occurs in prosody perception.

To comprehensively test the functional lateralization hypothesis, it is necessary to vary the communicative function of prosodic materials while keeping acoustics constant, and to observe whether the difference of activity between the hemispheres changes. …

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