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Congratulations to Luodi Yu, who will start her assistant professor job at School of Psychology in South China Normal University in Fall, 2018!

Dissertation title: An Electrophysiological Investigation of Linguistic Pitch Processing in Tonal-language-speaking Children with Autism

Defense date: 9/7/2018
Revision date: 9/12/2018

Chieh Kao received the Graduate Research Partnership Program Fellowship (mentor: Yang Zhang) to do infant speech perception research. The award carries $4000 stipend and an additional $1000 for subject fees and travel.

Zhang, L., Wang, J., Hong, T., Li, Y., Zhang, Y., & Shu, H. (In press). Mandarin-speaking kindergarten-aged children with cochlear implants benefit from natural F0 patterns in the use of semantic context during speech recognition. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research.

Purpose: The purpose of the current study was to investigate the extent to which semantic context and F0 contours affect speech recognition by Mandarin-speaking kindergarten-aged children with CIs.

Method: The experimental design manipulated two factors, i.e., semantic context by comparing the intelligibility of normal sentence vs. word list, and F0 contours by comparing the intelligibility of utterances with natural vs. flat F0 patterns. Twenty- two children with cochlear implants completed the speech recognition test.

Results: Children with cochlear implants could use both semantic context and F0 contours to assist speech recognition. Furthermore, natural F0 patterns provided extra benefit when semantic context was present than when it was absent.

Conclusion: Dynamic F0 contours play an important role in speech recognition by Mandarin-speaking children with cochlear implants despite the well-known limitation of cochlear implant devices in extracting F0 information.

Yu, L., Wang, S., Huang, D., Wu, X., & Zhang, Y. (2018). Role of inter-trial phase coherence in atypical auditory evoked potentials to speech and nonspeech stimuli in children with autism. Clinical Neurophysiology.


Objective: This autism study investigated how inter-trial phase coherence (ITPC) drives abnormalities in auditory evoked potential (AEP) responses for speech and nonspeech stimuli.

Methods: Auditory P1-N2 responses and ITPCs in the theta band (4~7 Hz) for pure tones and words were assessed with EEG data from 15 school-age children with autism and 16 age-matched typically developing (TD) controls.

Results: The autism group showed enhanced P1 and reduced N2 for both speech and nonspeech stimuli in comparison with the TD group. Group differences were also found with enhanced theta ITPC for P1 followed by ITPC reduction for N2 in the autism group. The ITPC values were significant predictors of P1 and N2 amplitudes in both groups.

Conclusions: Abnormal trial-to-trial phase synchrony plays an important role in AEP atypicalities in children with autism. ITPC-driven enhancement as well as attenuation in different AEP components may coexist, depending on the stage of information processing.

Significance: It is necessary to examine the time course of auditory evoked potentials and the corresponding inter-trial coherence of neural oscillatory activities to better understand hyper- and hypo- sensitive responses in autism, which has important implications for sensory-based treatment.

Chieh Kao received a conference travel grant award from the Graduate School (Council of Graduate Students Grant Opportunities Program) for presenting at the 2018 Annual Conference of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society in Boston. Congratulations to Chieh!

Yu, L., & Zhang, Y. (In press). Testing native language neural commitment at the brainstem level: A cross-linguistic investigation of the association between frequency-following response and speech perception. Neuropsychologia.

Abstract: A current topic in auditory neurophysiology is how brainstem sensory coding contributes to higher-level perceptual, linguistic and cognitive skills. This cross-language study was designed to compare frequency following responses (FFRs) for lexical tones in tonal (Mandarin Chinese) and non-tonal (English) language users and test the correlational strength between FFRs and behavior as a function of language experience. The behavioral measures were obtained in the Garner paradigm to assess how lexical tones might interfere with vowel category and duration judgement. The FFR results replicated previous findings about between-group differences, showing enhanced pitch tracking responses in the Chinese subjects. The behavioral data from the two subject groups showed that lexical tone variation in the vowel stimuli significantly interfered with vowel identification with a greater effect in the Chinese group. Moreover, the FFRs for lexical tone contours were significantly correlated with the behavioral interference only in the Chinese group. This pattern of language-specific association between speech perception and brainstem-level neural phase-locking of linguistic pitch information provides evidence for a possible native language neural commitment at the subcortical level, highlighting the role of experience-dependent brainstem tuning in influencing subsequent linguistic processing in the adult brain.

Keywords: Native Language Neural Commitment Theory; Frequency Following Response; speech perception; lexical tones; Garner paradigm

Dr. Keita Tanaka (Associate Professor at Tokyo Denki University) will visit Zhang Lab during October 26-28. Dr. Tanaka is interested in MEG research and has several collaborative MEG projects with Dr. Zhang.

The Natural Science Foundation of China has awarded Dr. Yang Zhang a two-year international collaboration autism grant (NSFC 31728009) for the period of 1/2018 ~ 12/2019. The host institution is South China Normal University, and co-PI is Dr. Suiping Wang at the School of Psychology at SCNU.

Dr. Min Guo is a medical doctor from the Hospital of University of Electronic Science and Technology of China. She is the Director of the Psychological Education and Training Department at her university hospital. Her primary interests are neurodevelopmental disorders including autism and ADHD.

Huang, D., Yu, L., Wang, X., Fan, Y., Wang, S., & Zhang, Y. (2017). Distinct patterns of discrimination and orienting for temporal processing of speech and nonspeech in Chinese children with autism: An event-related potential study. European Journal of Neuroscience.

Abstract: Although many studies have reported domain-general impaired duration perception for speech and nonspeech sounds in children with autism, it remained unclear whether this phenomenon is universally applicable regardless of language background. In some languages such as Finnish and Japanese, vowel duration serves a phonemic role that can signify semantic distinction, and in others (e.g., Mandarin Chinese), vowel duration does not carry this phonemic function. The present event-related potential study investigated neural sensitivity to duration contrasts in speech and nonspeech contexts in Mandarin-speaking children with autism and a control group of age-matched typically developing (TD) children. A passive oddball paradigm was adopted to elicit the mismatch negativity (MMN) and involuntary orienting response (P3a) for change detection. A pure tone condition and a vowel condition were used. The MMN results showed that the autism group had diminished response amplitudes and delayed latency in the pure tone condition compared to the TD group, whereas no group difference was found in the vowel condition. The P3a results showed no significant between-group MMN difference in the pure tone condition. In the vowel condition, the autism group had smaller P3a than the TD group. Together, the distinct patterns of discrimination and orienting responses for duration contrasts in pure tones and vowels are consistent with the “allophonic perception” theory for autism, which may reflect a compromised perceptual weighting system for speech learning.

Keywords: Autism, temporal processing, speech perception, mismatch negativity (MMN), perceptual weighting

by Zhang LabZhang Lab, 11 Jul 2017 10:26

The third video material of Week 2, "Syntax: Movement and Trace", is linked to an incorrect video.

by Zhongyuan Liu (guest), 08 Jul 2017 10:53
by Zhang LabZhang Lab, 27 Jun 2017 01:59

The College of Liberal Arts has awarded Dr. Zhang the 2017 Brain Imaging Research Project Award.

Steven Manson
Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs
Office of the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs
College of Liberal Arts
113 Johnston Hall, 101 Pleasant Street
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Zhou, H., Liang, M., Guan, Q., Zhang, L., Shu, H., & Zhang, Y. (2017). Mandarin-speaking Children's Speech Recognition: Developmental Changes in the Influences of Semantic Context and F0 Contours. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1090.

The goal of this developmental speech perception study was to assess whether and how age group modulated the influences of high-level semantic context and low-level fundamental frequency (F0) contours on the recognition of Mandarin speech by elementary and middle-school-aged children in quiet and interference backgrounds. The results revealed different patterns for semantic and F0 information. One the one hand, age group modulated significantly the use of F0 contours, indicating that elementary school children relied more on natural F0 contours than middle school children during Mandarin speech recognition. On the other hand, there was no significant modulation effect of age group on semantic context, indicating that children of both age groups used semantic context to assist speech recognition to a similar extent. Furthermore, the significant modulation effect of age group on the interaction between F0 contours and semantic context revealed that younger children could not make better use of semantic context in recognizing speech with flat F0 contours compared with natural F0 contours, while older children could benefit from semantic context even when natural F0 contours were altered, thus confirming the important role of F0 contours in Mandarin speech recognition by elementary school children. The developmental changes in the effects of high-level semantic and low-level F0 information on speech recognition might reflect the differences in auditory and cognitive resources associated with processing of the two types of information in speech perception.

Tess Koerner did a great job in her dissertation defense (Committee members: Peggy Nelson, Andrew Oxenham, Robert Schlauch, Yang Zhang). Congratulations!

Koerner, T. K., Zhang, Y., Nelson, P., Wang, B., & Zou, H. (2017). Neural indices of phonemic discrimination and sentence-level speech intelligibility in quiet and noise: A P3 study. Hearing Research, 350, 58-67.

This study examined how speech babble noise differentially affected the auditory P3 responses and the associated neural oscillatory activities for consonant and vowel discrimination in relation to segmental- and sentence- level speech perception in noise. The data were collected from 16 normal-hearing participants in a double-oddball paradigm that contained a consonant (/ba/ to /da/) and vowel (/ba/ to /bu/) change in quiet and noise (speech-babble background at a -3 dB signal-to-noise ratio) conditions. Time-frequency analysis was applied to obtain inter-trial phase coherence (ITPC) and event-related spectral perturbation (ERSP) measures in delta, theta, and alpha frequency bands for the P3 response. Behavioral measures included percent correct phoneme detection and reaction time as well as percent correct IEEE sentence recognition in quiet and in noise. Linear mixed-effects models were applied to determine possible brain-behavior correlates. A significant noise-induced reduction in P3 amplitude was found, accompanied by significantly longer P3 latency and decreases in ITPC across all frequency bands of interest. There was a differential effect of noise on consonant discrimination and vowel discrimination in both ERP and behavioral measures, such that noise impacted the detection of the consonant change more than the vowel change. The P3 amplitude and some of the ITPC and ERSP measures were significant predictors of speech perception at segmental- and sentence-levels across listening conditions and stimuli. These data demonstrate that the P3 response with its associated cortical oscillations represents a potential neurophysiological marker for speech perception in noise.

Keywords: speech perception; event-related potential; P3; inter-trial phase coherence (ITPC); event-related spectral perturbation (ERSP) 

Jiang, W., Li, Y., Shu, H., Zhang, L., & Zhang, Y. (2017). Use of semantic context and F0 contours by older listeners during Mandarin speech recognition in quiet and single-talker interference conditions. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 141, EL338-EL344.

Abstract: This study followed up Wang et al. (2013) to investigate factors influencing older listeners’ Mandarin speech recognition in quiet vs. single-talker interference. Listening condition was found to interact with F0 contour, revealing that natural F0 contours provided benefit in the interference condition whereas semantic context contributed similarly to both conditions. There was also a significant interaction between semantic context and F0 contour, demonstrating the importance of semantic context when F0 was flattened. Together, findings from the two studies indicate that aging differentially affects tonal language speakers’ dependence on F0 contours and semantic context for speech perception in suboptimal conditions.

Keywords: Mandarin speech recognition; older listeners; semantic context; F0 contours; quiet; single-talker interference

Koerner, T. K., & Zhang, Y. (Accepted). Application of linear mixed-effects models in human neuroscience research: A comparison with Pearson correlation in two auditory electrophysiology studies. Brain Sciences.

Abstract: Neurophysiological studies are often designed to examine relationships between measures from different testing conditions, time points, or analysis techniques within the same group of participants. Appropriate statistical techniques that can take into account repeated measures and multivariate predictor variables are integral and essential to successful data analysis and interpretation. This work implements and compares conventional Pearson correlations and linear mixed-effects (LME) regression models using data from two recently published auditory electrophysiology studies. For the specific research questions in both studies, the Pearson’s correlation test is inappropriate for determining strengths between the behavioral responses for speech-in-noise recognition and the multiple neurophysiological measures as the neural responses across listening conditions were simply treated as independent measures. In contrast, the LME models allow a systematic approach to incorporate both fixed-effect and random-effect terms to deal with the categorical grouping factor of listening conditions, between-subject baseline differences in the multiple measures, and the correlational structure among the predictor variables. Together, the comparative data demonstrate the advantages as well as the necessity to apply mixed-effects models to properly account for the built-in relationships among the multiple predictor variables, which has important implications for proper statistical modelling and interpretation of human behavior in terms of neural correlates and biomarkers.

Keywords: Pearson correlation; linear mixed-effects regression models; repeated measures; neurophysiology; event-related potential

Acknowledgments: This work was supported in part by the Charles E. Speaks Graduate Fellowship (TKK), the Bryng Bryngelson Research Fund (TKK and YZ), the Capita Foundation (YZ), the Brain Imaging Research Project award and single semester leave award (YZ) from the College of Liberal Arts, and the University of Minnesota Grand Challenges Exploratory Research Project Grant (YZ). We would like to thank Boxiang Wang, Hui Zou, Peggy Nelson, and Edward Carney for their assistance.

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