When speech is too fast, the tracking of the acoustic signal along the auditory pathway deteriorates, leading to suboptimal speech segmentation and decoding of speech information. Thus, speech comprehension is limited by the temporal constraints of the auditory system. Here we ask whether individual differences in auditory-motor coupling strength in part shape these temporal constraints. In two behavioral experiments, we characterize individual differences in the comprehension of naturalistic speech as function of the individual synchronization between the auditory and motor systems and the preferred frequencies of the systems. Obviously, speech comprehension declined at higher speech rates. Importantly, however, both higher auditory-motor synchronization and higher spontaneous speech motor production rates were predictive of better speech-comprehension performance. Furthermore, performance increased with higher working memory capacity (Digit Span) and higher linguistic, model-based sentence predictability – particularly so at higher speech rates and for individuals with high auditory-motor synchronization. These findings support the notion of an individual preferred auditory– motor regime that allows for optimal speech processing. The data provide evidence for a model that assigns a central role to motor-system-dependent individual flexibility in continuous speech comprehension.
- speech perception
- speech production
- auditory-motor synchronization