Neural dynamics underlying the acquisition of distinct auditory category structures

Gangyi Feng*, Zhenzhong Gan, Han Gyol Yi, Shawn W. Ell, Casey L. Roark, Suiping Wang, Patrick C.M. Wong, Bharath Chandrasekaran*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Despite the multidimensional and temporally fleeting nature of auditory signals we quickly learn to assign novel sounds to behaviorally relevant categories. The neural systems underlying the learning and representation of novel auditory categories are far from understood. Current models argue for a rigid specialization of hierarchically organized core regions that are fine-tuned to extracting and mapping relevant auditory dimensions to meaningful categories. Scaffolded within a dual-learning systems approach, we test a competing hypothesis: the spatial and temporal dynamics of emerging auditory-category representations are not driven by the underlying dimensions but are constrained by category structure and learning strategies. To test these competing models, we used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to assess representational dynamics during the feedback-based acquisition of novel non-speech auditory categories with identical dimensions but differing category structures: rule-based (RB) categories, hypothesized to involve an explicit sound-to-rule mapping network, and information integration (II) based categories, involving pre-decisional integration of dimensions via a procedural-based sound-to-reward mapping network. Adults were assigned to either the RB (n = 30, 19 females) or II (n = 30, 22 females) learning tasks. Despite similar behavioral learning accuracies, learning strategies derived from computational modeling and involvements of corticostriatal systems during feedback processing differed across tasks. Spatiotemporal multivariate representational similarity analysis revealed an emerging representation within an auditory sensory-motor pathway exclusively for the II learning task, prominently involving the superior temporal gyrus (STG), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), and posterior precentral gyrus. In contrast, the RB learning task yielded distributed neural representations within regions involved in cognitive-control and attentional processes that emerged at different time points of learning. Our results unequivocally demonstrate that auditory learners’ neural systems are highly flexible and show distinct spatial and temporal patterns that are not dimension-specific but reflect underlying category structures and learning strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number118565
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021


  • Auditory category learning
  • Category structure
  • Computational modeling
  • MVPA
  • Neural representation
  • Spatiotemporal dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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