An objective measurement of the build-up of auditory streaming and of its modulation by attention

J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2011 Aug;37(4):1253-62. doi: 10.1037/a0021925.


Three experiments studied auditory streaming using sequences of alternating "ABA" triplets, where "A" and "B" were 50-ms tones differing in frequency by Δf semitones and separated by 75-ms gaps. Experiment 1 showed that detection of a short increase in the gap between a B tone and the preceding A tone, imposed on one ABA triplet, was better when the delay occurred early versus late in the sequence, and for Δf = 4 vs. Δf = 8. The results of this experiment were consistent with those of a subjective streaming judgment task. Experiment 2 showed that the detection of a delay 12.5 s into a 13.5-s sequence could be improved by requiring participants to perform a task on competing stimuli presented to the other ear for the first 10 s of that sequence. Hence, adding an additional task demand could improve performance via its effect on the perceptual organization of a sound sequence. The results demonstrate that attention affects streaming in an objective task and that the effects of build-up are not completely under voluntary control. In particular, even though build-up can impair performance in an objective task, participants are unable to prevent this from happening.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Auditory Threshold
  • Differential Threshold
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Field Dependence-Independence
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pattern Recognition, Physiological / physiology*
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult