During speech communication, visual information may interact with the auditory system at various processing stages. Most noteworthy, recent magnetoencephalography (MEG) data provided first evidence for early and preattentive phonetic/phonological encoding of the visual data stream—prior to its fusion with auditory phonological features [Hertrich, I., Mathiak, K., Lutzenberger, W., & Ackermann, H. Time course of early audiovisual interactions during speech and non-speech central-auditory processing: An MEG study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21, 259–274, 2009]. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the present follow-up study aims to further elucidate the topographic distribution of visual–phonological operations and audiovisual (AV) interactions during speech perception. Ambiguous acoustic syllables—disambiguated to /pa/ or /ta/ by the visual channel (speaking face)—served as test materials, concomitant with various control conditions (nonspeech AV signals, visual-only and acoustic-only speech, and nonspeech stimuli). (i) Visual speech yielded an AV-subadditive activation of primary auditory cortex and the anterior superior temporal gyrus (STG), whereas the posterior STG responded both to speech and nonspeech motion. (ii) The inferior frontal and the fusiform gyrus of the right hemisphere showed a strong phonetic/phonological impact (differential effects of visual /pa/ vs. /ta/) upon hemodynamic activation during presentation of speaking faces. Taken together with the previous MEG data, these results point at a dual-pathway model of visual speech information processing: On the one hand, access to the auditory system via the anterior supratemporal “what” path may give rise to direct activation of “auditory objects.” On the other hand, visual speech information seems to be represented in a right-hemisphere visual working memory, providing a potential basis for later interactions with auditory information such as the McGurk effect.

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