The role of Broca's area in speech perception: Evidence from aphasia revisited

Gregory Hickok*, Maddalena Costanzo, Rita Capasso, Gabriele Miceli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Motor theories of speech perception have been re-vitalized as a consequence of the discovery of mirror neurons. Some authors have even promoted a strong version of the motor theory, arguing that the motor speech system is critical for perception. Part of the evidence that is cited in favor of this claim is the observation from the early 1980s that individuals with Broca's aphasia, and therefore inferred damage to Broca's area, can have deficits in speech sound discrimination. Here we re-examine this issue in 24 patients with radiologically confirmed lesions to Broca's area and various degrees of associated non-fluent speech production. Patients performed two same-different discrimination tasks involving pairs of CV syllables, one in which both CVs were presented auditorily, and the other in which one syllable was auditorily presented and the other visually presented as an orthographic form; word comprehension was also assessed using word-to-picture matching tasks in both auditory and visual forms. Discrimination performance on the all-auditory task was four standard deviations above chance, as measured using d', and was unrelated to the degree of non-fluency in the patients' speech production. Performance on the auditory-visual task, however, was worse than, and not correlated with, the all-auditory task. The auditory-visual task was related to the degree of speech non-fluency. Word comprehension was at ceiling for the auditory version (97% accuracy) and near ceiling for the orthographic version (90% accuracy). We conclude that the motor speech system is not necessary for speech perception as measured both by discrimination and comprehension paradigms, but may play a role in orthographic decoding or in auditory-visual matching of phonological forms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)214-220
Number of pages7
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Aphasia
  • Broca's area
  • Mirror neurons
  • Speech perception


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