Training Humans to Categorize Monkey Calls: Auditory Feature- and Category-Selective Neural Tuning Changes

Xiong Jiang, Mark Chevillet, Josef Rauschecker, and Maximilian Riesenhuber (2018)


Grouping auditory stimuli into common categories is essential for a variety of auditory tasks, including speech recognition. We trained human participants to categorize auditory stimuli from a large novel set of morphed monkey vocalizations. Using fMRI-rapid adaptation (fMRI-RA) and multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) techniques, we gained evidence that categorization training results in two distinct sets of changes: sharpened tuning to monkey call features (without explicit category representation) in left auditory cortex and category selectivity for different types of calls in lateral prefrontal cortex. In addition, the sharpness of neural selectivity in left auditory cortex, as estimated with both fMRI-RA and MVPA, predicted the steepness of the categorical boundary, whereas categorical judgment correlated with release from adaptation in the left inferior frontal gyrus. These results support the theory that auditory category learning follows a two-stage model analogous to the visual domain, suggesting general principles of perceptual category learning in the human brain.