Previous research has shown that the human auditory system continuously monitors its acoustic environment, detecting a variety of irregularities (e.g., deviance from prior stimulation regularity in pitch, loudness, duration, and (perceived) sound source location). Detection of irregularities can be inferred from a component of the event-related brain potential (ERP), referred to as the mismatch negativity (MMN), even in conditions in which participants are instructed to ignore the auditory stimulation. The current study extends previous findings by demonstrating that auditory irregularities brought about by a change in room acoustics elicit a MMN in a passive oddball protocol (acoustic stimuli with differing room acoustics, that were otherwise identical, were employed as standard and deviant stimuli), in which participants watched a fiction movie (silent with subtitles). While the majority of participants reported no awareness for any changes in the auditory stimulation, only one out of 14 participants reported to have become aware of changing room acoustics or sound source location. Together, these findings suggest automatic monitoring of room acoustics.
Keywords: Auditory room effects; Auditory space perception; Event-related potentials (ERP); Mismatch negativity (MMN); Pre-attentive auditory processing; Virtual acoustics.
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