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Arousal States as a Key Source of Variability in Speech Perception and Learning

1
Department of Neurological Surgery, Weill Institute for Neurosciences, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94158, USA
2
Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, Department of Communication Science and Disorders, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editor: David P Birdsong
Languages 2022, 7(1), 19; https://doi.org/10.3390/languages7010019
Received: 7 October 2021 / Revised: 18 January 2022 / Accepted: 19 January 2022 / Published: 24 January 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Variability and Age in Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism)
The human brain exhibits the remarkable ability to categorize speech sounds into distinct, meaningful percepts, even in challenging tasks like learning non-native speech categories in adulthood and hearing speech in noisy listening conditions. In these scenarios, there is substantial variability in perception and behavior, both across individual listeners and individual trials. While there has been extensive work characterizing stimulus-related and contextual factors that contribute to variability, recent advances in neuroscience are beginning to shed light on another potential source of variability that has not been explored in speech processing. Specifically, there are task-independent, moment-to-moment variations in neural activity in broadly-distributed cortical and subcortical networks that affect how a stimulus is perceived on a trial-by-trial basis. In this review, we discuss factors that affect speech sound learning and moment-to-moment variability in perception, particularly arousal states—neurotransmitter-dependent modulations of cortical activity. We propose that a more complete model of speech perception and learning should incorporate subcortically-mediated arousal states that alter behavior in ways that are distinct from, yet complementary to, top-down cognitive modulations. Finally, we discuss a novel neuromodulation technique, transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation (taVNS), which is particularly well-suited to investigating causal relationships between arousal mechanisms and performance in a variety of perceptual tasks. Together, these approaches provide novel testable hypotheses for explaining variability in classically challenging tasks, including non-native speech sound learning. View Full-Text
Keywords: second language acquisition; speech perception; arousal; neuromodulation; pupillometry; transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation second language acquisition; speech perception; arousal; neuromodulation; pupillometry; transcutaneous auricular vagus nerve stimulation
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MDPI and ACS Style

Schuerman, W.L.; Chandrasekaran, B.; Leonard, M.K. Arousal States as a Key Source of Variability in Speech Perception and Learning. Languages 2022, 7, 19. https://doi.org/10.3390/languages7010019

AMA Style

Schuerman WL, Chandrasekaran B, Leonard MK. Arousal States as a Key Source of Variability in Speech Perception and Learning. Languages. 2022; 7(1):19. https://doi.org/10.3390/languages7010019

Chicago/Turabian Style

Schuerman, William L., Bharath Chandrasekaran, and Matthew K. Leonard. 2022. "Arousal States as a Key Source of Variability in Speech Perception and Learning" Languages 7, no. 1: 19. https://doi.org/10.3390/languages7010019

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