Honour recognizes his research into asymmetric functioning of the brain for speech and music processing
Professor Robert Zatorre has been recognized for his work by La Fondation Pour l’Audition, a research institute and hearing advocacy organization based in Paris, France. He is this year’s recipient of the Grand Prix Scientifique, which recognizes leading research into the human auditory system.
Working over some forty years, Zatorre has improved our understanding of the asymmetric functioning of the auditory parts of the brain. Using neuroimaging, he and his colleagues showed in the 1990s how auditory regions in the left side of the brain are specialized to decipher speech, while right auditory areas are specialized for processing tonal pitch in music.
Most recently, his team has shown how this asymmetry arises. He proposes that the brain has developed two parallel and complementary skills to process specific acoustical features relevant for speech and music: left auditory areas are able to follow the rapidly changing temporal elements of speech, while right auditory regions integrate information more slowly and can represent the fine frequency elements that are most important for music, allowing us to perceive melody and harmony.
These discoveries can help improve the next generation of hearing prostheses by improving our understanding of how to transmit auditory stimuli to the brain, to help the wearer better communicate and appreciate music.
“Better understanding how the brain decodes music and how that process differs from speech processing is crucial to improve musical perception in persons with hearing loss,” says Zatorre. “This is important. Being able to appreciate music and derive pleasure from it is essential for quality of life.”
Le Grand Prix Scientifique
Over the past six years, a dozen researchers have been recognized by the Fondation for their contributions to audition. Among the discoveries rewarded are a protein essential for auditory processing, a surgical robot for cochlear implants, and insight into the intonations and emotions in the voices of stroke patients. Le Grand Prix Scientifique comes with a cash prize of 100,000 euros.