Abstract Our ability to understand others’ communicative intentions in speech is key to successful social interaction. Indeed, misunderstanding an “excuse me” as apology, while meant as criticism, may have important consequences. Recent behavioural studies have provided evidence that prosody, i.e., vocal tone, is an important indicator for speakers’ intentions. Using a novel audio-morphing paradigm, the present fMRI study examined the neurocognitive mechanisms that allow listeners to ‘read’ speakers’ intents from vocal-prosodic patterns. Participants categorised prosodic expressions that gradually varied in their acoustics between criticism, doubt, and suggestion. Categorising typical exemplars of the three intentions induced activations along the ventral auditory stream, complemented by amygdala and mentalizing system. These findings likely depict the step-wise conversion of external perceptual information into abstract prosodic categories and internal social semantic concepts, including the speaker’s mental state. Ambiguous tokens, in turn, involved cingulo-opercular areas known to assist decision-making in case of conflicting cues. Auditory and decision-making processes were flexibly coupled with the amygdala, depending on prosodic typicality, indicating enhanced categorisation efficiency of overtly relevant, meaningful prosodic signals. Altogether, the results point to a model in which auditory-prosodic categorisation and socio-inferential conceptualisation cooperate to translate perceived vocal tone into a coherent representation of the speaker’s intent. voice, prosody, intention, Theory of Mind, auditory categorical perception, connectivity © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits unrestricted non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact email@example.com
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience – Oxford University Press
Published: May 16, 2018
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