Acoustic versus phonetic representation of speech as reflected by the mismatch negativity event-related potential

A. Sharma, N. Kraus*, T. McGee, T. Carrell, T. Nicol

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


The concept of categorical perception of speech and speech-like sounds has been central to models of speech perception for decades. Event-related potentials (ERPs) provide a neurophysiologic perspective of this important phenomenon. In the present experiment the mismatch negativity (MMN) event-related potential, which is sensitive to fine acoustic differences, was recorded in adults. Of interest was whether the MMN reflects the acoustic or categorical perception of speech. The MMN was elicited by stimulus pairs (along a continuum varying in place of articulation from /da/ to /ga/) which had been identified as the same phoneme /da/ (within category condition) and as different phonemes /da/ and /ga/ (across categories condition). The acoustic differences between these two pairs of stimuli were equivalent. The MMN was observed in all subjects both in the within and across category conditions. Furthermore, the MMN did not differ in latency, amplitude or area within and across categories. That is, the MMN indicated equal discrimination both across and within categories. These results suggest that the MMN appears to reflect the processing of acoustic aspects of the speech stimulus, but not phonetic processing into categories. The MMN appears to be an extremely sensitive electrophysiologic index of minimal acoustic differences in speech stimuli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)64-71
Number of pages8
JournalElectroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology/ Evoked Potentials
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1993


  • Auditory
  • Categorical perception
  • Event-related potentials
  • Mismatch negativity
  • Speech

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • General Neuroscience


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