The 'loudness' of our thoughts affects how we judge external sounds

February 23, 2018, New York University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The "loudness" of our thoughts—or how we imagine saying something—influences how we judge the loudness of real, external sounds, a team of researchers from NYU Shanghai and NYU has found.

Its study, titled "Imagined Speech Influences Perceived Loudness of Sound" and published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, offers new insights into the nature of brain activity. The research project was conducted by Tian Xing and Bai Fan from NYU Shanghai with, David Poeppel and Teng Xiangbin from NYU, and Ding Nai from Zhejiang University.

"Our 'thoughts' are silent to others—but not to ourselves, in our own heads—so the loudness in our thoughts influences the loudness of what we hear," says Poeppel, a professor of psychology and neural science.

Using an - repetition paradigm, the team found that auditory imagery will decrease the sensitivity of actual loudness perception, with support from both behavioural loudness ratings and human electrophysiological (EEG and MEG) results.

"That is, after imagined speaking in your mind, the actual sounds you hear will become softer—the louder the volume during imagery, the softer perception will be," explains Tian, assistant professor of neural and cognitive sciences at NYU Shanghai. "This is because imagery and perception activate the same auditory brain areas. The preceding imagery already activates the auditory areas once, and when the same brain regions are needed for perception, they are 'tired' and will respond less."

According to Tian, the study demonstrates that perception is a result of interaction between top-down (e.g. our cognition) and bottom-up (e.g. sensory processing of external stimulation) processes. This is because human beings not only receive and analyze upcoming external signals passively, but also interpret and manipulate them actively to form perception.

The findings are the team's latest in a series of studies using mental imagery paradigms to investigate speech monitoring and control in production process—namely, a motor-based predictive process, which can extend and predict low-level auditory attributes such as loudness.

"Combining perception and speech production monitoring and control, this study can implicate the mechanisms of mental disorders," Tian says. "The most relevant one is auditory hallucination mostly in schizophrenia."

Explore further: How musical training affects speech processing

More information: Xing Tian et al, Imagined speech influences perceived loudness of sound, Nature Human Behaviour (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41562-018-0305-8

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not rated yet Feb 25, 2018
Dogs seem to be far more receptive to voice commands than Cats; Why not neurologists do widespread research on this issue? They have a lot of equipment to record the brainwaves etc., I certainly do not mean wasting funds doing studies on their behaviors. That will be sheer stupidity. Everything should be useful to humans in future, if not right now...Certainly with such comparative studies. Also, Various Breeds are available. Take for example, contrasting very friendly dogs (Not to owners alone) with extremely violent pit bulls (that are mauling their owners too from time to time) !
not rated yet Feb 26, 2018
Your 'how we imagine saying something' suggests you think that 'thinking' is done with language, we form sentences in our heads just the same as when we speak to others. I consider this totally wrong, most of our thinking is done on a non-verbal level, in images, often moving, sounds, colours, smells. We only 'think' in words when we are either about to express ourselves to another, or when rehearsing what we will say to another.
Clearly other animals think or reason, since we know of no other species with language anything like ours, they also must be thinking using all the senses.
I have been studying thought, a difficult but not impossible task, it takes a detachment that enables part of the brain to be observer, while unconscious thoughts continue and can be observed. I have done this and thinking is quite clearly in images, much as dreams are; we don't recount dreams as language but as experiences.
not rated yet Feb 26, 2018
betterexists: Dogs are more receptive to our language because they are much more intelligent than cats, and need to learn our language in order to survive and be useful to humans. Slaves always need to know the language of the master. We make no effort to understand their communication in most cases, and many imagine dogs are 'dumb', but in fact they have many subtle ways of communicating, and if you make the effort to observe and learn you find they can communicate a great deal. Of course, your 'Everything should be useful to humans in future' is the typical self importance of hominids, you appear to think of dogs as test subjects and have very little experience or knowledge of them. Suggest you learn more before spouting, as with 'extremely violent pit bulls (that are mauling their owners too from time to time)!' which is utterly ignorant since Pit Bulls are not any more violent than any other breed, they are made violent by sick humans who want to use them to fight.

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