The dynamic range paradox: a central auditory model of intensity change detection

PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e57497. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057497. Epub 2013 Feb 28.


In this paper we use empirical loudness modeling to explore a perceptual sub-category of the dynamic range problem of auditory neuroscience. Humans are able to reliably report perceived intensity (loudness), and discriminate fine intensity differences, over a very large dynamic range. It is usually assumed that loudness and intensity change detection operate upon the same neural signal, and that intensity change detection may be predicted from loudness data and vice versa. However, while loudness grows as intensity is increased, improvement in intensity discrimination performance does not follow the same trend and so dynamic range estimations of the underlying neural signal from loudness data contradict estimations based on intensity just-noticeable difference (JND) data. In order to account for this apparent paradox we draw on recent advances in auditory neuroscience. We test the hypothesis that a central model, featuring central adaptation to the mean loudness level and operating on the detection of maximum central-loudness rate of change, can account for the paradoxical data. We use numerical optimization to find adaptation parameters that fit data for continuous-pedestal intensity change detection over a wide dynamic range. The optimized model is tested on a selection of equivalent pseudo-continuous intensity change detection data. We also report a supplementary experiment which confirms the modeling assumption that the detection process may be modeled as rate-of-change. Data are obtained from a listening test (N = 10) using linearly ramped increment-decrement envelopes applied to pseudo-continuous noise with an overall level of 33 dB SPL. Increments with half-ramp durations between 5 and 50,000 ms are used. The intensity JND is shown to increase towards long duration ramps (p<10(-6)). From the modeling, the following central adaptation parameters are derived; central dynamic range of 0.215 sones, 95% central normalization, and a central loudness JND constant of 5.5×10(-5) sones per ms. Through our findings, we argue that loudness reflects peripheral neural coding, and the intensity JND reflects central neural coding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Loudness Perception / physiology*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Sound*

Grant support

The first author was supported by a Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Doctoral Training Account ( studentship at Queen Mary University of London. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.