Optimal brain sensitivity to the fundamental frequency (F0) contour changes in the human voice is important for understanding a speaker's intonation, and consequently, the speaker's attitude. However, whether sensitivity in the brain's response to a human voice F0 contour change varies with an interaction between an individual's traits (i.e., autistic traits) and a human voice element (i.e., presence or absence of communicative action such as calling) has not been investigated. In the present study, we investigated the neural processes involved in the perception of F0 contour changes in the Japanese monosyllables "ne" and "nu." "Ne" is an interjection that means "hi" or "hey" in English; pronunciation of "ne" with a high falling F0 contour is used when the speaker wants to attract a listener's attention (i.e., social intonation). Meanwhile, the Japanese concrete noun "nu" has no communicative meaning. We applied an adaptive spatial filtering method to the neuromagnetic time course recorded by whole-head magnetoencephalography (MEG) and estimated the spatiotemporal frequency dynamics of event-related cerebral oscillatory changes in beta band during the oddball paradigm. During the perception of the F0 contour change when "ne" was presented, there was event-related de-synchronization (ERD) in the right temporal lobe. In contrast, during the perception of the F0 contour change when "nu" was presented, ERD occurred in the left temporal lobe and in the bilateral occipital lobes. ERD that occurred during the social stimulus "ne" in the right hemisphere was significantly correlated with a greater number of autistic traits measured according to the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ), suggesting that the differences in human voice processing are associated with higher autistic traits, even in non-clinical subjects.
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