Categorical effects in fricative perception are reflected in cortical source information

Sol Lago, Mathias Scharinger, Yakov Kronrod, William Idsardi

Previous research in speech perception has shown that category information affects the discrimination of consonants to a greater extent than vowels. However, there has been little electrophysiological work on the perception of fricative sounds, which are informative for this contrast as they share properties with both consonants and vowels. In the current study we address the relative contribution of phonological and acoustic information to the perception of sibilant fricatives using event-related fields (ERFs) and dipole modeling with magnetoencephalography (MEG). We show that the field strength of neural responses peaking approximately 200ms after sound onset co-varies with acoustic factors, while the cortical localization of earlier M100 responses suggests a stronger influence of phonological categories. We propose that neural equivalents of categorical perception for fricative sounds are best seen using localization measures, and that spectral cues are spatially coded in human cortex.