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Aero-tactile integration in speech perception


Visual information from a speaker’s face can enhance1 or interfere with2 accurate auditory perception. This integration of information across auditory and visual streams has been observed in functional imaging studies3,4, and has typically been attributed to the frequency and robustness with which perceivers jointly encounter event-specific information from these two modalities5. Adding the tactile modality has long been considered a crucial next step in understanding multisensory integration. However, previous studies have found an influence of tactile input on speech perception only under limited circumstances, either where perceivers were aware of the task6,7 or where they had received training to establish a cross-modal mapping8,9,10. Here we show that perceivers integrate naturalistic tactile information during auditory speech perception without previous training. Drawing on the observation that some speech sounds produce tiny bursts of aspiration (such as English ‘p’)11, we applied slight, inaudible air puffs on participants’ skin at one of two locations: the right hand or the neck. Syllables heard simultaneously with cutaneous air puffs were more likely to be heard as aspirated (for example, causing participants to mishear ‘b’ as ‘p’). These results demonstrate that perceivers integrate event-relevant tactile information in auditory perception in much the same way as they do visual information.

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Figure 1: Interaction graphs for the hand experiment with standard error bars.
Figure 2: Interaction graphs for the neck experiment with standard error bars.
Figure 3: Interaction graph for control experiment with standard error bars.


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This research was funded by a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada to B.G., and by a National Institutes of Health Grant DC-02717 to Haskins Laboratories. We acknowledge the contributions of Y. Ikegami for initial piloting, R. Lee for piloting tapping protocols, L. McLeod for help setting up the University of British Columbia system, G. Ramsay and J. Wang for building switch mechanisms, S. Renardy for organizing protocols, D. H. Whalen for discussion and students of the University of British Columbia’s Interdisciplinary Speech Research Laboratory for organizing participants and other assistance.

Author Contributions B.G. conceived and designed the experiment; D.D. designed and performed the data analysis.

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Correspondence to Bryan Gick.

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Gick, B., Derrick, D. Aero-tactile integration in speech perception. Nature 462, 502–504 (2009).

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