Ensemble Modeling of Auditory Streaming Reveals Potential Sources of Bistability Across the Perceptual Hierarchy

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PLOS Computational Biology

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Perceptual bistability—the spontaneous, irregular fluctuation of perception between two interpretations of a stimulus—occurs when observing a large variety of ambiguous stimulus configurations. This phenomenon has the potential to serve as a tool for, among other things, understanding how function varies across individuals due to the large individual differences that manifest during perceptual bistability. Yet it remains difficult to interpret the functional processes at work, without knowing where bistability arises during perception. In this study we explore the hypothesis that bistability originates from multiple sources distributed across the perceptual hierarchy. We develop a hierarchical model of auditory processing comprised of three distinct levels: a Peripheral, tonotopic analysis, a Central analysis computing features found more centrally in the auditory system, and an Object analysis, where sounds are segmented into different streams. We model bistable perception within this system by applying adaptation, inhibition and noise into one or all of the three levels of the hierarchy. We evaluate a large ensemble of variations of this hierarchical model, where each model has a different configuration of adaptation, inhibition and noise. This approach avoids the assumption that a single configuration must be invoked to explain the data. Each model is evaluated based on its ability to replicate two hallmarks of bistability during auditory streaming: the selectivity of bistability to specific stimulus configurations, and the characteristic log-normal pattern of perceptual switches. Consistent with a distributed origin, a broad range of model parameters across this hierarchy lead to a plausible form of perceptual bistability.


Computational Biology



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