Stimulus pauses and perturbations differentially delay or promote the segregation of auditory objects: Psychoacoustics and modeling

James Rankin, Pamela J. Osborn Popp, John Rinzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Segregating distinct sound sources is fundamental for auditory perception, as in the cocktail party problem. In a process called the build-up of stream segregation, distinct sound sources that are perceptually integrated initially can be segregated into separate streams after several seconds. Previous research concluded that abrupt changes in the incoming sounds during build-up-for example, a step change in location, loudness or timing-reset the percept to integrated. Following this reset, the multisecond build-up process begins again. Neurophysiological recordings in auditory cortex (A1) show fast (subsecond) adaptation, but unified mechanistic explanations for the bias toward integration, multisecond build-up and resets remain elusive. Combining psychoacoustics and modeling, we show that initial unadapted A1 responses bias integration, that the slowness of build-up arises naturally from competition downstream, and that recovery of adaptation can explain resets. An early bias toward integrated perceptual interpretations arising from primary cortical stages that encode low-level features and feed into competition downstream could also explain similar phenomena in vision. Further, we report a previously overlooked class of perturbations that promote segregation rather than integration. Our results challenge current understanding for perturbation effects on the emergence of sound source segregation, leading to a new hypothesis for differential processing downstream of A1. Transient perturbations can momentarily redirect A1 responses as input to downstream competition units that favor segregation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number198
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue numberAPR
StatePublished - Apr 20 2017


  • Auditory perception
  • Auditory stream segregation
  • Computational neuroscience
  • Dynamical systems
  • Psychoacoustics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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