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fMRI evidence for a cortical hierarchy of pitch pattern processing

Lookup NU author(s): Tobias Overath, Professor Tim GriffithsORCiD



Pitch patterns, such as melodies, consist of two levels of structure: a global level, comprising the pattern of ups and downs, or contour; and a local level, comprising the precise intervals that make up this contour. An influential neuropsychological model suggests that these two levels of processing are hierarchically linked, with processing of the global structure occurring within the rigth hemisphere in advance of local processing within the left. However, the predictions of this model and its anatomical basis have not been tested in neurologically normal individuals. The present study used fMR1 and required participants to listen to consecutive pitch sequences while performing a same/different one-back task. Sequences, when different, either preserved (local) or violated (global) the contour of the sequence preceding them. When the activations for the local and global conditions were contrasted directly, additional activation was seen for local processing in right planum temporale and posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), The presence of additional activation for local over global processing supports the hierarchical view that the global structure of a pitch sequence acts as a "framework" on which the local detail is subsequently hung. However, the lateralisation of activation seen in the present study, with global processing occurring in left pSTS and local processing occurring bilaterally, differed from that predicted by the neuroanatomical model. A re-examination of the individual lesion data on which the neuroanatomical model is based revealed that the lesion data equally well support the laterality scheme suggested by our data. While the present study supports the hierarchical view of local and global processing, there is an evident need for further research, both in patients and neurologically normal individuals, before an understanding of the functional lateralisation of local and global processing can be considered established. © 2008 Stewart et al.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Stewart L, Overath T, Warren J, Foxton J, Griffiths T

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: PLoS One

Year: 2008

Volume: 3

Issue: 1

ISSN (electronic): 1932-6203

Publisher: Public Library of Science


DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001470

PubMed id: 18231575


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Funder referenceFunder name
German Academic Exchange Service
academic fellowshipResearch Councils UK (RCUK)
Intermediate Clinical FellowshipWellcome Trust (UK)