February 27, 2021

Cortical Processing of Arithmetic and Simple Sentences in an Auditory Attention Task

Cortical processing of arithmetic and of language rely on both shared and task-specific neural mechanisms, which should also be dissociable from the particular sensory modality used to probe them. Here, spoken arithmetical and non-mathematical statements were employed to investigate neural processing of arithmetic, compared to general language processing, in an attention-modulated cocktail party paradigm. Magnetoencephalography data was recorded from 22 subjects listening to both sentences and arithmetic equations while selectively attending to one of the two speech streams. Short sentences and simple equations were presented diotically at fixed and distinct word/symbol and sentence/equation rates. Critically, this allowed neural responses to acoustics, words, and symbols to be dissociated from responses to sentences and equations. Indeed, the simultaneous neural processing of the acoustics of words and symbols was observed in auditory cortex for both streams. Neural tracking of sentences and equations, however, was predominantly of the attended stream, and originated primarily from left temporal, and parietal areas, respectively. Additionally, these neural responses were correlated with behavioral performance in a deviant detection task. Source-localized Temporal Response Functions revealed cortical dynamics of distinct responses to sentences in left temporal areas and equations in bilateral temporal, parietal and motor areas. Finally, the target of attention could be decoded from responses, especially in left superior parietal areas. In short, the neural responses to arithmetic and language are especially well segregated during the cocktail party paradigm, and the correlation with behavior suggests that these neural responses are linked to successful comprehension or calculation.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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