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Auditory-motor working memory model for speech and music

Working Group ‘Auditory-motor working memory model for speech and music’

Marvin Heimerich (Leader), Gianna Urbanczik (Leader), Nadine Dietrich, Laura Niesig, Sina Sachse

Our working group is interested in the neurological basis of working memory (WM) for speech and music, which includes verbal, tonal, and rhythmic information. Even though behavioral studies (e.g. Chan et al., 1998; Saito & Ishio, 1998) suggest an overlap in speech and music working memory, past research did not encompass both speech and music (pitch & rhythm) in a concise theoretical working memory framework (e.g. Atherton et al., 2018; Buchsbaum & D’Esposito, 2019; Schulze et al., 2011; Williamson et al., 2010). The goal of our working group is, therefore, to develop an integrative model for working memory of speech and music and investigate its neural basis.

In doing so, we have focussed on a conceptualisation of working memory as a sensory-motor integration or, more specifically, an auditory-motor integration (AMI) system, as it is an important basis for both the perception and the production of speech and music. Thus, we refer to our model as an auditory-motor working memory model. Defining our WM model on the basis of AMI helps us to combine both speech and musical stimuli in our theory and adds to the growing interdisciplinary research in the field of language and music cognition. Area Spt (Sylvian parietal-temporal region) is assumed to be the locus of AMI, because of its activation in both speech and music WM tasks (perception and production) as well as its neuroanatomical location, situated between motor and temporal (auditory) regions (Hickok et al., 2003; Pa & Hickok, 2008).

Our research questions are: 1) How to design an experiment to test whether verbal, tonal, and rhythmic information are processed in the same working memory?; 2) How does damage to area Spt affect speech and music processing? To address these research questions, we use literature reviews as well as plan to carry out our own studies.


  • Atherton, R. P., Chrobak, Q. M., Rauscher, F. H., Karst, A. T., Hanson, M. D., Steinert, S. W., & Bowe, K. L. (2018). Shared Processing of Language and Music. Experimental Psychology, 65(1), 40–48. https://doi.org/10.1027/1618-3169/a000388
  • Buchsbaum, B. R., & D'Esposito, M. (2019). A sensorimotor view of verbal working memory. Cortex, 112, 134–148. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2018.11.010
  • Chan, A. S., Ho, Y. C., & Cheung, M. C. (1998). Music training improves verbal memory. Nature, 396(6707), 128. https://doi.org/10.1038/24075
  • Hickok, G., Buchsbaum, B., Humphries, C., & Muftuler, T. (2003). Auditory–Motor Interaction Revealed by fMRI: Speech, Music, and Working Memory in Area Spt. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 15(5), 673–682. https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn.2003.15.5.673
  • Pa, J., & Hickok, G. (2008). A parietal-temporal sensory-motor integration area for the human vocal tract: Evidence from an fMRI study of skilled musicians. Neuropsychologia, 46(1), 362–368. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.06.024
  • Saito, S., & Ishio, A. (1998). Rhythmic information in working memory: Effects of concurrent articulation on reproduction of rhythms. Japanese Psychological Research, 40(1), 10–18. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-5884.00070
  • Williamson, V. J., Baddeley, A. D., & Hitch, G. J. (2010). Musicians' and nonmusicians' short-term memory for verbal and musical sequences: Comparing phonological similarity and pitch proximity. Memory & Cognition, 38(2), 163–175. https://doi.org/10.3758/MC.38.2.163