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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

August 2011, Vol. 23, No. 8, Pages 1855-1863
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2010.21521)
© 2011 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sound Processing Hierarchy within Human Auditory Cortex
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Both attention and masking sounds can alter auditory neural processes and affect auditory signal perception. In the present study, we investigated the complex effects of auditory-focused attention and the signal-to-noise ratio of sound stimuli on three different auditory evoked field components (auditory steady-state response, N1m, and sustained field) by means of magnetoencephalography. The results indicate that the auditory steady-state response originating in primary auditory cortex reflects the signal-to-noise ratio of physical sound inputs (bottom–up process) rather than the listener's attentional state (top–down process), whereas the sustained field, originating in nonprimary auditory cortex, reflects the attentional state rather than the signal-to-noise ratio. The N1m was substantially influenced by both bottom–up and top–down neural processes. The differential sensitivity of the components to bottom–up and top–down neural processes, contingent on their level in the processing pathway, suggests a stream from bottom–up driven sensory neural processing to top–down driven auditory perception within human auditory cortex.