Auditory cortex is the first cortical region of the human brain to process sounds. However, it has recently been shown that its neurons also fire in the absence of direct sensory input, during memory maintenance and imagery. This has commonly been taken to reflect neural coding of the same acoustic information as during the perception of sound. However, the results of the current study suggest that the type of information encoded in auditory cortex is highly flexible. During perception and memory maintenance, neural activity patterns are stimulus specific, reflecting individual sound properties. Auditory imagery of the same sounds evokes similar overall activity in auditory cortex as perception. However, during imagery abstracted, categorical information is encoded in the neural patterns, particularly when individuals are experiencing more vivid imagery. This highlights the necessity to move beyond traditional “brain mapping” inference in human neuroimaging, which assumes common regional activation implies similar mental representations.

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