Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 175, Issue 3, pp 411–424

Effects of classical conditioning on identification and cortical processing of speech syllables

Research Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00221-006-0560-1

Cite this article as:
Heim, S. & Keil, A. Exp Brain Res (2006) 175: 411. doi:10.1007/s00221-006-0560-1


The present study was designed to examine effects of learned motivational significance on processing of speech syllables in adults using a classical conditioning paradigm. Aversive white noise (unconditioned stimulus) was paired with two exemplars of /ba/ (conditioned stimulus, CS+) occurring near the category boundary of a 10-item /ba/-da/ continuum. Two corresponding /da/ syllables served as the CS− and indicated absence of white noise. High-density electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded while participants passively listened to the stimuli. Prior to the EEG session and after intermittent conditioning, participants were asked to identify the syllables in a categorical perception task. Analysis of time-locked electrocortical data revealed amplitude modulations of the N2 (248–312 ms) component as a function of acquired stimulus properties (CS+ versus CS−). Over right hemisphere regions, negativity was specifically enhanced for the CS+ during intermittent conditioning. During extinction, this conditioning effect was paralleled by findings in the time-frequency domain, showing greater oscillatory activity in the gamma-band (25–40 Hz) range, 80–120 ms following onset of the CS+ compared with CS−. A similar pattern emerged in a later time segment of 400–600 ms (30–45 Hz). Aversive conditioning was not reflected in superior categorical perception performance. Our data indicate that electrocortical correlates of speech syllable perception are susceptible to changes induced by contingencies. Physiological differences were not manifest in behavioral advantage for a specific stimulus, i.e., the CS+, however. We conclude that training speech categorization by merely enhancing motivational relevance is not effective for conveying behavioral improvement.


Classical conditioning Speech sounds Perception Electroencephalography Event related potentials 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of KonstanzKonstanzGermany

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