Local and global auditory processing: Behavioral and ERP evidence

Lisa D. Sanders, David Poeppel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Differential processing of local and global visual features is well established. Global precedence effects, differences in event-related potentials (ERPs) elicited when attention is focused on local versus global levels, and hemispheric specialization for local and global features all indicate that relative scale of detail is an important distinction in visual processing. Observing analogous differential processing of local and global auditory information would suggest that scale of detail is a general organizational principle of the brain. However, to date the research on auditory local and global processing has primarily focused on music perception or on the perceptual analysis of relatively higher and lower frequencies. The study described here suggests that temporal aspects of auditory stimuli better capture the local-global distinction. By combining short (40 ms) frequency modulated tones in series to create global auditory patterns (500 ms), we independently varied whether pitch increased or decreased over short time spans (local) and longer time spans (global). Accuracy and reaction time measures revealed better performance for global judgments and asymmetric interference that were modulated by amount of pitch change. ERPs recorded while participants listened to identical sounds and indicated the direction of pitch change at the local or global levels provided evidence for differential processing similar to that found in ERP studies employing hierarchical visual stimuli. ERP measures failed to provide evidence for lateralization of local and global auditory perception, but differences in distributions suggest preferential processing in more ventral and dorsal areas respectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1172-1186
Number of pages15
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2007


  • Congruency
  • Event-related potential
  • Lateralization
  • Pitch
  • Selective attention
  • Temporal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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