Perceptual invariance or orientation specificity in American Sign Language? Evidence from repetition priming for signs and gestures
Repetition priming has been successfully employed to examine stages of processing in a wide variety of cognitive domains including language, object recognition, and memory. This study uses a novel repetition priming paradigm in the context of a categorisation task to explore early stages in the processing of American Sign Language signs and self-grooming gestures. Specifically, we investigated the degree to which deaf signers’ and hearing nonsigners’ perception of these linguistic or nonlinguistic actions might be differentially robust to changes in perceptual viewpoint. We conjectured that to the extent that signers were accessing language-specific representations in their performance of the task, they might show more similar priming effects under different viewing conditions than hearing subjects. In essence, this would provide evidence for a visually based “lack of invariance” phenomenon. However, if the early stages of visual-action processing are similar for deaf and hearing subjects, then no such difference should be found.
Lateral Heschl’s gyrus (HG), a subdivision of the human auditory cortex, is commonly believed to represent a general “pitch center,” responding selectively to the pitch of sounds, irrespective of their spectral characteristics. However, most neuroimaging investigations have used only one specialized pitch-evoking stimulus: iterated-ripple noise (IRN). The present study used a novel experimental design in which a range of different pitch-evoking stimuli were presented to the same listeners. Pitch sites were identified by searching for voxels that responded well to the range of pitch-evoking stimuli. The first result suggested that parts of the planum temporale are more relevant for pitch processing than lateral HG. In some listeners, pitch responses occurred elsewhere, such as the temporo-parieto-occipital junction or prefrontal cortex. The second result demonstrated a different pattern of response to the IRN and raises the possibility that features of IRN unrelated to pitch might contribute to the earlier results. In conclusion, it seems premature to assign special status to lateral HG solely on the basis of neuroactivation patterns. Further work should consider the functional roles of these multiple pitch processing sites within the proposed network.
from Cerebral Cortex