Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
In this study, we used high-density EEG to evaluate whether speech and music expertise has an influence on the categorization of expertise-related and unrelated sounds. With this purpose in mind, we compared the categorization of speech, music, and neutral sounds between professional musicians, simultaneous interpreters (SIs), and controls in response to morphed speech–noise, music–noise, and speech–music continua. Our hypothesis was that music and language expertise will strengthen the memory representations of prototypical sounds, which act as a perceptual magnet for morphed variants. This means that the prototype would “attract” variants. This so-called magnet effect should be manifested by an increased assignment of morphed items to the trained category, by a reduced maximal slope of the psychometric function, as well as by differential event-related brain responses reflecting memory comparison processes (i.e., N400 and P600 responses). As a main result, we provide first evidence for a domain-specific behavioral bias of musicians and SIs toward the trained categories, namely music and speech. In addition, SIs showed a bias toward musical items, indicating that interpreting training has a generic influence on the cognitive representation of spectrotemporal signals with similar acoustic properties to speech sounds. Notably, EEG measurements revealed clear distinct N400 and P600 responses to both prototypical and ambiguous items between the three groups at anterior, central, and posterior scalp sites. These differential N400 and P600 responses represent synchronous activity occurring across widely distributed brain networks, and indicate a dynamical recruitment of memory processes that vary as a function of training and expertise.