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Auditory figure-ground segregation is impaired by high visual load

Molloy, K; Lavie, N; Chait, M; (2018) Auditory figure-ground segregation is impaired by high visual load. Journal of Neuroscience , 39 (9) pp. 1699-1708. 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2518-18.2018. Green open access

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Abstract

Figure-ground segregation is fundamental to listening in complex acoustic environments. An ongoing debate pertains to whether segregation requires attention or is 'automatic' and pre-attentive. In this magnetoencephalography (MEG) study we tested a prediction derived from Load Theory of attention (e.g. Lavie, 1995) that segregation requires attention, but can benefit from the automatic allocation of any 'leftover' capacity under low load. Complex auditory scenes were modelled with Stochastic Figure Ground stimuli (SFG, Teki et al., 2013), which occasionally contained repeated frequency component 'figures'. Naive human participants (both sexes) passively listened to these signals while performing a visual attention task of either low or high load. Whilst clear figure-related neural responses were observed under conditions of low load, high visual load substantially reduced the neural response to the figure in auditory cortex (Planum Temporale, Heschl's gyrus). We conclude that fundamental figure-ground segregation in hearing is not automatic but draws on resources that are shared across vision and audition.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTThis work resolves a long-standing question of whether figure-ground segregation, a fundamental process of auditory scene analysis, requires attention or is underpinned by automatic, encapsulated computations. Task-irrelevant sounds were presented during performance of a visual search task. We revealed a clear MEG neural signature of figure-ground segregation in conditions of low visual load, which was substantially reduced in conditions of high visual load. This demonstrate that although attention does not need to be actively allocated to sound for auditory segregation to occur, segregation depends on shared computational resources across vision and hearing. The findings further highlight that visual load can impair the computational capacity of the auditory system, even when it does not simply dampen auditory responses as a whole.

Type: Article
Title: Auditory figure-ground segregation is impaired by high visual load
Location: United States
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2518-18.2018
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2518-18.2018
Language: English
Additional information: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in the credit line; if the material is not included under the Creative Commons license, users will need to obtain permission from the license holder to reproduce the material. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Keywords: Attention, auditory scene analysis, load theory, magnetoencephalography, MEG, multisensory
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > The Ear Institute
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1566325
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