Separate mechanisms for audio-tactile pitch and loudness interactions

Front Psychol. 2010 Oct 13;1:160. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00160. eCollection 2010.


A major goal in perceptual neuroscience is to understand how signals from different sensory modalities are combined to produce stable and coherent representations. We previously investigated interactions between audition and touch, motivated by the fact that both modalities are sensitive to environmental oscillations. In our earlier study, we characterized the effect of auditory distractors on tactile frequency and intensity perception. Here, we describe the converse experiments examining the effect of tactile distractors on auditory processing. Because the two studies employ the same psychophysical paradigm, we combined their results for a comprehensive view of how auditory and tactile signals interact and how these interactions depend on the perceptual task. Together, our results show that temporal frequency representations are perceptually linked regardless of the attended modality. In contrast, audio-tactile loudness interactions depend on the attended modality: Tactile distractors influence judgments of auditory intensity, but judgments of tactile intensity are impervious to auditory distraction. Lastly, we show that audio-tactile loudness interactions depend critically on stimulus timing, while pitch interactions do not. These results reveal that auditory and tactile inputs are combined differently depending on the perceptual task. That distinct rules govern the integration of auditory and tactile signals in pitch and loudness perception implies that the two are mediated by separate neural mechanisms. These findings underscore the complexity and specificity of multisensory interactions.

Keywords: multisensory; psychophysics; tone; vibration.