Activation of articulatory information in speech perception

Ivan Yuen, Matthew H. Davis, Marc Brysbaert, Kathleen Rastle*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


Emerging neurophysiologic evidence indicates that motor systems are activated during the perception of speech, but whether this activity reflects basic processes underlying speech perception remains a matter of considerable debate. Our contribution to this debate is to report direct behavioral evidence that specific articulatory commands are activated automatically and involuntarily during speech perception. We used electropalatography to measure whether motor information activated from spoken distractors would yield specific distortions on the articulation of printed target syllables. Participants produced target syllables beginning with /k/ or /s/ while listening to the same syllables or to incongruent rhyming syllables beginning with /t/. Tongue-palate contact for target productions was measured during the articulatory closure of /k/ and during the frication of /s/. Results revealed "traces" of the incongruent distractors on target productions, with the incongruent /t/-initial distractors inducing greater alveolar contact in the articulation of /k/ and /s/ than the congruent distractors. Two further experiments established that (i) the nature of this interference effect is dependent specifically on the articulatory properties of the spoken distractors; and (ii) this interference effect is unique to spoken distractors and does not arise when distractors are presented in printed form. Results are discussed in terms of a broader emerging framework concerning the relationship between perception and action, whereby the perception of action entails activation of the motor system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)592-597
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Electropalatography
  • Interference
  • Motor theory
  • Perception-action relationship
  • Speech production


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