Benjamin Morillon

Neural dynamics and computations constraining music and speech processing

I will depict the neural dynamics underlying music perception and speech comprehension, focusing on time scales and adaptive processes.

First, I will present an account of why humans spontaneously dance to music. I will present behavioral and neuroimaging evidence that motor dynamics reflect predictive timing during music listening. While auditory regions track the rhythm of melodies, intrinsic neural dynamics at delta (1.4 Hz) and beta (20-30 Hz) rates in the dorsal auditory pathways encode the wanting-to-move experience (groove). Critically, neural dynamics are organized along this pathway in a spectral gradient, with the left sensorimotor cortex coordinating groove-related delta and beta activity. Combined with predictions of a neurodynamic model, this suggests that spontaneous motor engagement during music listening is a manifestation of predictive timing effected by interaction of neural dynamics along the dorsal auditory pathway.

Second, to investigate speech comprehension, we developed a framework capitalizing on the concept of channel capacity. We behavioral examined the respective influence of seven acoustic and linguistic features on the comprehension of compressed speech. We show that comprehension is independently impacted by all these features, but at varying degrees and with a clear dominance of the syllabic rate. Complementing this framework, we integrate human intracranial recordings to study how neural dynamics in the auditory cortex adapt to different acoustic features, allowing for parallel sampling of speech at both syllabic and phonemic time scales.

These findings underscore the dynamic adaptation of neural processes to temporal characteristics in speech and music, enhancing our understanding of language and music perception.


I am a cognitive neuroscientist interested in human auditory neurophysiology and how information is sequentially encoded in the human brain. After a PhD at Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris (France), I worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia (USA) and McGill (Canada) universities. Since 2016, I held a tenured position at the Institut de Neurosciences des Systèmes in Marseille (France).
I believe in a synergetic cross talk between computational modelling, cognitive psychology and multi-modal functional neuroimaging to understand how humans process sensory information. My work mainly focuses on two research questions. First, I investigate auditory hemispheric asymmetry, to understand from a physiological and functional viewpoint the similarities and differences between the two auditory cortices. This line of research aims at highlighting the fundamental relationship between acoustic properties and specific neural networks to reveal how it enables efficient auditory neural coding. Second, I explore the interrelation between auditory and motor neural systems. To this end, I analyse how overt motor routines and covert motor cortical activity modulate auditory processing and behavioural performance. I also investigate which auditory stimuli automatically trigger a motor neural response. Overall, this work highlights the role of motor areas in sensory perception, notably implicated in the analysis of contextual temporal information.