Feel the Noise: Relating Individual Differences in Auditory Imagery to the Structure and Function of Sensorimotor Systems

Cesar Lima, Nadine Lavan, Samuel Evans, Zarinah K. Agnew, Andrea Halpern, Pradheep Shanmugalingam, Sophie Meekings, Dana Boebinger, Markus Ostarek, Carolyn McGettigan, Jane Warren, Sophie K. Scott

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Humans can generate mental auditory images of voices or songs, sometimes
perceiving them almost as vividly as perceptual experiences. The functional networks supporting auditory imagery have been described, but less is known about the systems associated with inter-individual differences in auditory imagery. Combining voxel-based morphometry and fMRI, we examined the structural basis of inter-individual differences in how auditory images are subjectively perceived, and explored associations between auditory imagery, sensory-based processing and visual imagery. Vividness of auditory imagery correlated with grey matter volume in the supplementary motor area (SMA), parietal cortex, medial superior frontal gyrus, and middle frontal gyrus. An analysis of functional responses to different types of vocalizations revealed that the SMA and parietal sites that predict imagery are also modulated by sound type. Using representational similarity analysis, we found that higher representational specificity of sounds in SMA predicts vividness of imagery, indicating a mechanistic link between sensory- and imagery-based processing in sensorimotor cortex. Vividness of imagery in the visual domain also correlated with SMA structure, and with auditory imagery scores. Altogether, these findings provide evidence for a signature of imagery in brain structure, and highlight a common role of perceptual-motor interactions for processing heard and internally generated auditory information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4638-4650
Number of pages13
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number11
Early online date19 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015

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