Accurate sound localization in reverberant environments is mediated by robust encoding of spatial cues in the auditory midbrain

Neuron. 2009 Apr 16;62(1):123-34. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.02.018.


In reverberant environments, acoustic reflections interfere with the direct sound arriving at a listener's ears, distorting the spatial cues for sound localization. Yet, human listeners have little difficulty localizing sounds in most settings. Because reverberant energy builds up over time, the source location is represented relatively faithfully during the early portion of a sound, but this representation becomes increasingly degraded later in the stimulus. We show that the directional sensitivity of single neurons in the auditory midbrain of anesthetized cats follows a similar time course, although onset dominance in temporal response patterns results in more robust directional sensitivity than expected, suggesting a simple mechanism for improving directional sensitivity in reverberation. In parallel behavioral experiments, we demonstrate that human lateralization judgments are consistent with predictions from a population rate model decoding the observed midbrain responses, suggesting a subcortical origin for robust sound localization in reverberant environments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Auditory Threshold / physiology
  • Cats
  • Cues*
  • Humans
  • Mesencephalon / cytology
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Sound
  • Sound Localization / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • User-Computer Interface