Neural Correlates of Perceptual Switching While Listening to Bistable Auditory Streaming Stimuli

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Understanding the neural underpinning of conscious perception remains one of the primary challenges of cognitive neuroscience. Theories based mostly on studies of the visual system differ according to whether the neural activity giving rise to conscious perception occurs in modality-specific sensory cortex or in associative areas, such as the frontal and parietal cortices. Here, we search for modality-specific conscious processing in the auditory cortex using a bistable stream segregation paradigm that presents a constant stimulus without the confounding influence of physical changes to sound properties. ABA_ triplets (i.e., alternating low, A, and high, B, tones, and _ gap) with a 700 ms silent response period after every third triplet were presented repeatedly, and human participants reported nearly equivalent proportions of 1- and 2-stream percepts. The pattern of behavioral responses was consistent with previous studies of visual and auditory bistable perception. The intermittent response paradigm has the benefit of evoking spontaneous perceptual switches that can be attributed to a well-defined stimulus event, enabling precise identification of the timing of perception-related neural events with event-related potentials (ERPs). Significantly more negative ERPs were observed for 2-streams compared to 1-stream, and for switches compared to non-switches during the sustained potential (500–1000 ms post-stimulus onset). Further analyses revealed that the negativity associated with switching was independent of switch direction, suggesting that spontaneous changes in perception have a unique neural signature separate from the observation that 2-stream percepts evoke more negative ERPs than 1-stream. Source analysis of the sustained potential showed activity associated with these differences originating in anterior superior temporal gyrus, indicating involvement of the ventral auditory pathway that is important for processing auditory objects.


Neuroscience and Neurobiology | Psychology



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