Phase entrainment and perceptual cycles in audition and vision

Abstract : Recent research indicates fundamental differences between the auditory and visual systems: Whereas the visual system seems to sample its environment, cycling between "snapshots" at discrete moments in time (creating perceptual cycles), most attempts at discovering discrete perception in the auditory system failed. Here, we show in two psychophysical experiments that subsampling the very input to the visual and auditory systems is indeed more disruptive for audition; however, the existence of perceptual cycles in the auditory system is possible if they operate on a relatively high level of auditory processing. Moreover, we suggest that the auditory system, due to the rapidly fluctuating nature of its input, might rely to a particularly strong degree on phase entrainment, the alignment between neural activity and the rhythmic structure of its input: By using the low and high excitability phases of neural oscillations, the auditory system might actively control the timing of its "snapshots" and thereby amplify relevant information whereas irrelevant events are suppressed. Not only do our results suggest that the oscillatory phase has important consequences on how simultaneous auditory inputs are perceived; additionally, we can show that phase entrainment to speech sound does entail an active high-level mechanism. We do so by using specifically constructed speech/noise sounds in which fluctuations in low-level features (amplitude and spectral content) of speech have been removed, but intelligibility and high-level features (including, but not restricted to phonetic information) have been conserved. We demonstrate, in several experiments, that the auditory system can entrain to these stimuli, as both perception (the detection of a click embedded in the speech/noise stimuli) and neural oscillations (measured with electroencephalography, EEG, and in intracranial recordings in primary auditory cortex of the monkey) follow the conserved "high-level" rhythm of speech. Taken together, the results presented here suggest that, not only in vision, but also in audition, neural oscillations are an important tool for the discretization and processing of the brain's input. However, there seem to be fundamental differences between the two systems: In contrast to the visual system, it is critical for the auditory system to adapt (via phase entrainment) to its environment, and input subsampling is done most likely on a hierarchically high level of stimulus processing.
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Benedikt Zoefel. Phase entrainment and perceptual cycles in audition and vision. Psychology and behavior. Université Paul Sabatier - Toulouse III, 2015. English. ⟨NNT : 2015TOU30232⟩. ⟨tel-01380333⟩

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