Perceptually ambiguous stimuli are useful for testing psychological and neuronal models of perceptual organization, e.g. for studying brain processes that underlie sequential segregation and integration. This is because the same stimuli may give rise to different subjective experiences. For humans, a tone sequence that alternates between a low-frequency and a high-frequency tone is perceptually bistable, and can be perceived as one or two streams. In the current study we present a new method based on response times (RTs) which allows identification ambiguous and unambiguous stimuli for subjects who cannot verbally report their subjective experience. We required two macaque monkeys (macaca fascicularis) to detect the termination of a sequence of light flashes which were either presented alone, or synchronized in different ways with a sequence of alternating low and high tones. We found that the monkeys responded faster to the termination of the flash sequence when the tone sequence terminated shortly before the flash sequence and thus predicted the termination of the flash sequence. This RT gain depended on the frequency separation of the tones. RT gains were largest when the frequency separation was small and the tones were presumably heard mainly as one stream. RT gains were smallest when the frequency separation was large and the tones were presumably mainly heard as two streams. RT gain was of intermediate size for intermediate frequency separations. Similar results were obtained from human subjects. We conclude that the observed RT gains reflect the perceptual organization of the tone sequence, and that tone sequences with an intermediate frequency separation, as for humans, are perceptually ambiguous for monkeys.
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