How the Brain Separates Sounds

Trends Cogn Sci. 2004 Oct;8(10):465-71. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2004.08.008.


In everyday life we often listen to one sound, such as someone's voice, in a background of competing sounds. To do this, we must assign simultaneously occurring frequency components to the correct source, and organize sounds appropriately over time. The physical cues that we exploit to do so are well-established; more recent research has focussed on the underlying neural bases, where most progress has been made in the study of a form of sequential organization known as "auditory streaming". Listeners' sensitivity to streaming cues can be captured in the responses of neurons in the primary auditory cortex, and in EEG wave components with a short latency (< 200ms). However, streaming can be strongly affected by attention, suggesting that this early processing either receives input from non-auditory areas, or feeds into processes that do.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Cues
  • Electroencephalography
  • Humans