Don't mind the gap: Brain mechanisms for the tracking of sounds in noisy scenes


The prevalence of noise in our environment is increasing due to growing amounts of traffic and media. However, even during a loud noise, a relevant sound such as a speech can still be heard as stable. This capability to 'track' sounds through interrupting noise is critical in everyday life (e.g., at a train station), yet it is often reduced in people with hearing deficits including the elderly. Unfortunately, the neural mechanism and the neuropathology underlying normal and deficient auditory tracking are hardly understood.

This proposal puts forward the novel hypothesis that auditory tracking is enabled by a suppression of neural responses to auditory interruptions. The function and dysfunction of this potential key mechanism will be investigated systematically in three neurobehavioral studies. Patients with tracking deficits and healthy controls will be tested using natural sounds and a combination of non-invasive state-of-the-art neuroscientific methods as follows: Real-life recordings will be manipulated so that a speech signal can be perceived as either continuous or discontinuous through interrupting noise. Participants will judge the continuity of the interrupted speech. During this task, the neural architecture of the tracking mechanism will be imaged with great spatial precision using high-field magnetic resonance imaging. The adaptability of the mechanism in different auditory scenes will be resolved with great temporal precision using electroencephalography. Brain activity that is necessary for proper functioning of the mechanism will be identified using transcranial magnetic stimulation.

The outcomes of this project will contribute unprecedented insights into normal and deficient auditory cognition in complex environments. They will establish a detailed and ecologically plausible foundation for understanding how the brain enhances the perception of relevant sounds in natural scenes. This unique knowledge will create new promising perspectives for clinical practice with hearing-impaired populations and for implementation of noise-resistant hearing prostheses or communication devices.


Chapter in book

  • L Riecke, BCJ Moore, RD Patterson, C Micheyl, AJ Oxenham, IM Winter, RP Carlyon, HE Gockel(2013): Basic Aspects of Hearing: Physiology and Perception pp. 483 - 489 , New York, NY
  • L Riecke, P van Dijk, D Baskent, E Gaudrain, E De Kleine, A Wagner, C Lanting(2016): pp. 301 - 310 , New York, NY

Scientific article

  • L Riecke, M Vanbussel, L Hausfeld, D Baskent, E Formisano, F Esposito(2012): Hearing an illusory vowel in noise: Suppression of auditory cortical activity. The Journal of Neuroscience pp. 8024 - 8034
  • L Riecke, C Micheyl, AJ Oxenham(2012): Global not local features govern the auditory continuity illusion. The Journal of Neuroscience pp. 4660 - 4664
  • L Riecke, W Scharke, G Valente, A Gutschalk(2014): Sustained selective attention to competing amplitude-modulations in human auditory cortex Plos One pp. e108045 - e108045
  • L Riecke, E Formisano, CS Herrmann, AT Sack(2015): 4-Hz Transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation Phase Modulates Hearing Brain Stimulation pp. 777 - 783

Publications for the general public

  • L Riecke, M Vanbussel, L Hausfeld, D Baskent, E Formisano, F Esposito(2012): Tracking vocal pitch through noise: Sound offset suppression in auditory cortex.
  • L Riecke, JC Peters, G Valente, VG Kemper, E Formisano, B Sorger(2014): Task- and stimulus-driven audio-frequency representations in human supratemporal cortex
  • H Renvall, J Seol, R Tuominen, B Sorger, L Riecke, R Salmelin(2014): Attention to speech sounds within auditory scenes modifies temporal cortical activity
  • L Riecke, JC Peters, G Valente, VG Kemper, E Formisano, B Sorger(2014): Task- and stimulus-driven audio-frequency representations in human supratemporal cortex
  • L Hausfeld, L Riecke, F De Martino, E Formisano(2015): Examining selective attention mechanisms using natural auditory scenes and 7T functional MRI


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. L. Riecke

Affiliated with

Maastricht University, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience

Team members

Dr. L. Riecke


01/01/2012 to 30/09/2015