Listening under difficult conditions: An activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis

Claude Alain, Yi Du, Lori J. Bernstein, Thijs Barten, Karen Banai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The brain networks supporting speech identification and comprehension under difficult listening conditions are not well specified. The networks hypothesized to underlie effortful listening include regions responsible for executive control. We conducted meta-analyses of auditory neuroimaging studies to determine whether a common activation pattern of the frontal lobe supports effortful listening under different speech manipulations. Fifty-three functional neuroimaging studies investigating speech perception were divided into three independent Activation Likelihood Estimate analyses based on the type of speech manipulation paradigm used: Speech-in-noise (SIN, 16 studies, involving 224 participants); spectrally degraded speech using filtering techniques (15 studies involving 270 participants); and linguistic complexity (i.e., levels of syntactic, lexical and semantic intricacy/density, 22 studies, involving 348 participants). Meta-analysis of the SIN studies revealed higher effort was associated with activation in left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), left inferior parietal lobule, and right insula. Studies using spectrally degraded speech demonstrated increased activation of the insula bilaterally and the left superior temporal gyrus (STG). Studies manipulating linguistic complexity showed activation in the left IFG, right middle frontal gyrus, left middle temporal gyrus and bilateral STG. Planned contrasts revealed left IFG activation in linguistic complexity studies, which differed from activation patterns observed in SIN or spectral degradation studies. Although there were no significant overlap in prefrontal activation across these three speech manipulation paradigms, SIN and spectral degradation showed overlapping regions in left and right insula. These findings provide evidence that there is regional specialization within the left IFG and differential executive networks underlie effortful listening.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2695-2709
Number of pages15
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • auditory
  • listening effort
  • prefrontal cortex
  • speech

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Anatomy


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