Sensory signals are transduced at high resolution, but their structure must be stored in a more compact format. Here we provide evidence that the auditory system summarizes the temporal details of sounds using time-averaged statistics. We measured discrimination of 'sound textures' that were characterized by particular statistical properties, as normally result from the superposition of many acoustic features in auditory scenes. When listeners discriminated examples of different textures, performance improved with excerpt duration. In contrast, when listeners discriminated different examples of the same texture, performance declined with duration, a paradoxical result given that the information available for discrimination grows with duration. These results indicate that once these sounds are of moderate length, the brain's representation is limited to time-averaged statistics, which, for different examples of the same texture, converge to the same values with increasing duration. Such statistical representations produce good categorical discrimination, but limit the ability to discern temporal detail.
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