When hearing knocking on a door, a listener typically identifies both the action (forceful and repeated impacts) and the object (a thick wooden board) causing the sound. The current work studied the neural bases of sound source identification by switching listeners’ attention toward these different aspects of a set of simple sounds during functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning: participants either discriminated the action or the material that caused the sounds, or they simply discriminated meaningless scrambled versions of them. Overall, discriminating action and material elicited neural activity in a left-lateralized frontoparietal network found in other studies of sound identification, wherein the inferior frontal sulcus and the ventral premotor cortex were under the control of selective attention and sensitive to task demand. More strikingly, discriminating materials elicited increased activity in cortical regions connecting auditory inputs to semantic, motor, and even visual representations, whereas discriminating actions did not increase activity in any regions. These results indicate that discriminating and identifying material requires deeper processing of the stimuli than discriminating actions. These results are consistent with previous studies suggesting that auditory perception is better suited to comprehend the actions than the objects producing sounds in the listeners’ environment.

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