Processing of action and non-action sounds

The human brain always amazes with every single research that is done about it.

Our perception of the whole word depends on how the information we receive is processed in it.

A study I recently read deals with an interesting aspect of how the sound of actions is processed in our brains.

Research on this topic began with the suggestion derived from neuropsychological researches that the brain does not process all sound events in the same way, but that it makes a distinction between the sound produced by one agent (actions) and all others.

The research started from the analysis of audiovisual mirrors in the brains of monkeys, and some more recent experiments on humans suggest the existence of two different brain mechanisms for sound processing.

Action-related sounds activate the mirror system (with, in addition, a motor action program, to represent how the sound was produced.) Non-action-related sounds do not.

In one experiment, Lahav [2] played some non-musicians to listen to a piece of piano music they had just learned and showed that their premotor areas of the brain were activated, whereas it wasn’t when they were listening to a piece they hadn’t learned.

This not only triggers a representation of how the sound was produced, but could also prepare a listener’s reaction.

 “Cognitive representations of sounds could be associated with action planning patterns, and sounds can also unconsciously trigger further reaction from the listener.” [1]

This mirror system is also activated when the action can be seen, so it could be interpreted as an abstract representation of the action in our brain.


[1] T. Hermann, A. Hunt, J.G. Neuhoff –  The Sonification Handbook

[2] A. Lahav, E. Saltzman, and G. Schlaug. – Action representation of sound: audiomotor recognition network while listening to newly acquired actions.