Processing of pitch and location in human auditory cortex during visual and auditory tasks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • Suvi Häkkinen
  • Noora Ovaska
  • Teemu Rinne

Research units

  • University of Helsinki
  • Aalto University


The relationship between stimulus-dependent and task-dependent activations in human auditory cortex (AC) during pitch and location processing is not well understood. In the present functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we investigated the processing of task-irrelevant and task-relevant pitch and location during discrimination, n-back, and visual tasks. We tested three hypotheses: (1) According to prevailing auditory models, stimulus-dependent processing of pitch and location should be associated with enhanced activations in distinct areas of the anterior and posterior superior temporal gyrus (STG), respectively. (2) Based on our previous studies, task-dependent activation patterns during discrimination and n-back tasks should be similar when these tasks are performed on sounds varying in pitch or location. (3) Previous studies in humans and animals suggest that pitch and location tasks should enhance activations especially in those areas that also show activation enhancements associated with stimulus-dependent pitch and location processing, respectively. Consistent with our hypotheses, we found stimulus-dependent sensitivity to pitch and location in anterolateral STG and anterior planum temporale (PT), respectively, in line with the view that these features are processed in separate parallel pathways. Further, task-dependent activations during discrimination and n-back tasks were associated with enhanced activations in anterior/posterior STG and posterior STG/inferior parietal lobule (IPL) irrespective of stimulus features. However, direct comparisons between pitch and location tasks performed on identical sounds revealed no significant activation differences. These results suggest that activations during pitch and location tasks are not strongly affected by enhanced stimulus-dependent activations to pitch or location. We also found that activations in PT were strongly modulated by task requirements and that areas in the inferior parietal lobule (IPL) showed task-dependent activation modulations, but no systematic activations to pitch or location. Based on these results, we argue that activations during pitch and location tasks cannot be explained by enhanced stimulus-specific processing alone, but rather that activations in human AC depend in a complex manner on the requirements of the task at hand.


Original languageEnglish
Article number1678
Pages (from-to)1-12
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2015
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

    Research areas

  • Attention, Auditory cortex, Human, Pitch processing, Spatial processing

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