Ubiquitous Crossmodal Stochastic Resonance in Humans: Auditory Noise Facilitates Tactile, Visual and Proprioceptive Sensations

PLoS One. 2008 Aug 6;3(8):e2860. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002860.


Background: Stochastic resonance is a nonlinear phenomenon whereby the addition of noise can improve the detection of weak stimuli. An optimal amount of added noise results in the maximum enhancement, whereas further increases in noise intensity only degrade detection or information content. The phenomenon does not occur in linear systems, where the addition of noise to either the system or the stimulus only degrades the signal quality. Stochastic Resonance (SR) has been extensively studied in different physical systems. It has been extended to human sensory systems where it can be classified as unimodal, central, behavioral and recently crossmodal. However what has not been explored is the extension of this crossmodal SR in humans. For instance, if under the same auditory noise conditions the crossmodal SR persists among different sensory systems.

Methodology/principal findings: Using physiological and psychophysical techniques we demonstrate that the same auditory noise can enhance the sensitivity of tactile, visual and propioceptive system responses to weak signals. Specifically, we show that the effective auditory noise significantly increased tactile sensations of the finger, decreased luminance and contrast visual thresholds and significantly changed EMG recordings of the leg muscles during posture maintenance.

Conclusions/significance: We conclude that crossmodal SR is a ubiquitous phenomenon in humans that can be interpreted within an energy and frequency model of multisensory neurons spontaneous activity. Initially the energy and frequency content of the multisensory neurons' activity (supplied by the weak signals) is not enough to be detected but when the auditory noise enters the brain, it generates a general activation among multisensory neurons of different regions, modifying their original activity. The result is an integrated activation that promotes sensitivity transitions and the signals are then perceived. A physiologically plausible model for crossmodal stochastic resonance is presented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation*
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Adult
  • Hearing
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Neurological
  • Noise*
  • Proprioception*
  • Reference Values
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Sound Localization / physiology
  • Stochastic Processes
  • Touch*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Visual Perception*