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Speech monitoring as action control

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A new approach to understand the processes involved in speech monitoring

Producing and understanding language is a complex cognitive skill that is widely understood as setting humans apart from other species. Taking recent evidence that sensori-motor information plays an important role in how we represent and access words, EU researchers tested whether this also applies for other aspects of language processing.

Digital Economy

The project SMAC (Speech monitoring as action control) was set up to advance knowledge of the processes involved in speech monitoring, which is one aspect of language processing. The overall aim was to test whether speech monitoring makes use of the same processes involved in controlling our motor actions. In the domain of motor control, the term efference copies is used to refer to actions that produce expectations of their sensory consequences. The project team sought to obtain evidence that efference copies are the basis for monitoring error in speech production. To this end, they carried out three different, but linked, lines of research, all aiming to determine whether mechanisms used for the supervision of other domains of cognition are engaged during language processing. One experiment involved an experiment with 29 individuals and the use of electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings. The EEG data are still being analysed to determine whether the kind of internal modelling used in supervising more basic motor skills is also operative in the supervision of language production. Maintaining focus on the potential use of internal modelling during speech production, the second experiment tested the performance of speech production monitoring in the case of an impaired right cerebellum. Experimental data have been collected from 16 participants in a speeded speech production task designed to elicit both word and pseudo-word errors. The results of the analysis (ongoing) are expected to shed light on a potential role of the right cerebellum in speech production monitoring. In the third experiment, researchers explored to what extent domain general cognitive control and language production monitoring are achieved through the same processes. This centred on 54 participants in three groups (alcohol, placebo and control) to examine the impact of alcohol intake on language monitoring and speech production. Data analysis is ongoing. SMAC findings are expected to shed light on the relationship between the supervision of language production and that of other cognitive skills. Project results may provide strong evidence for shared processes of action and language monitoring and further knowledge on the relationship between humans and other species.


Speech monitoring, cognitive skill, SMAC, language processing, efference copies, language production

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