Temporal causal inference with stochastic audiovisual sequences

Shannon M. Locke, Michael S. Landy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Integration of sensory information across multiple senses is most likely to occur when signals are spatiotemporally coupled. Yet, recent research on audiovisual rate discrimination indicates that random sequences of light flashes and auditory clicks are integrated optimally regardless of temporal correlation. This may be due to 1) temporal averaging rendering temporal cues less effective; 2) difficulty extracting causal-inference cues from rapidly presented stimuli; or 3) task demands prompting integration without concern for the spatiotemporal relationship between the signals. We conducted a rate-discrimination task (Exp 1), using slower, more random sequences than previous studies, and a separate causal-judgement task (Exp 2). Unisensory and multisensory rate-discrimination thresholds were measured in Exp 1 to assess the effects of temporal correlation and spatial congruence on integration. The performance of most subjects was indistinguishable from optimal for spatiotemporally coupled stimuli, and generally sub-optimal in other conditions, suggesting observers used a multisensory mechanism that is sensitive to both temporal and spatial causal-inference cues. In Exp 2, subjects reported whether temporally uncorrelated (but spatially co-located) sequences were perceived as sharing a common source. A unified percept was affected by click-flash pattern similarity and the maximum temporal offset between individual clicks and flashes, but not on the proportion of synchronous click-flash pairs. A simulation analysis revealed that the stimulus-generation algorithms of previous studies is likely responsible for the observed integration of temporally independent sequences. By combining results from Exps 1 and 2, we found better rate-discrimination performance for sequences that are more likely to be integrated than those that are not. Our results support the principle that multisensory stimuli are optimally integrated when spatiotemporally coupled, and provide insight into the temporal features used for coupling in causal inference.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0183776
JournalPloS one
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General


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