Neural derivation of sound source location: resolution of spatial ambiguities in binaural cues

J Acoust Soc Am. 1992 Feb;91(2):1015-27. doi: 10.1121/1.402627.


Cues for sound localization are inherently spatially ambiguous. Nevertheless, most neurons in the barn owl's optic tectum (superior colliculus) have receptive fields for broadband noise stimuli that are restricted to a single region of space. This study characterizes the spatial ambiguities associated with two important sets of localization cues, interaural level differences (ILDs) and interaural phase differences (IPDs), and describes how information is integrated within and across frequencies to resolve these ambiguities. The auditory receptive fields of neurons in the optic tectum were measured with free-field sounds presented from a movable loudspeaker. In contrast to the single regions typical for broadband receptive fields, receptive fields for tonal stimuli usually included additional discrete regions of space (accessory fields). Based on acoustic measurements of ILD and IPD cues made in the external ear canals, it was shown that accessory fields corresponded to locations from which sound sources produced ILD and IPD values that were approximately the same as those arising from the broadband receptive field. In addition, accessory fields had inhibitory surrounds, corresponding to locations from which sound sources produced substantially different combinations of ILD and IPD values. Where an accessory field for one frequency overlapped with the inhibitory surround of a second frequency, an excitatory response to the first frequency could be reduced or eliminated by addition of the second frequency. Because tonal receptive fields for different frequencies always overlapped in the region of the broadband receptive field but tended not to overlap elsewhere, this integration of excitation and inhibition can account for the restriction of broadband receptive fields to a single region of space.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cues
  • Dichotic Listening Tests*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory / physiology
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Pitch Discrimination / physiology
  • Sound Localization / physiology*
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology*