The current study measured neural responses to investigate auditory stream segregation of noise stimuli with or without clear spectral contrast. Sequences of alternating A and B noise bursts were presented to elicit stream segregation in normal-hearing listeners. The successive B bursts in each sequence maintained an equal amount of temporal separation with manipulations introduced on the last stimulus. The last B burst was either delayed for 50% of the sequences or not delayed for the other 50%. The A bursts were jittered in between every two adjacent B bursts. To study the effects of spectral separation on streaming, the A and B bursts were further manipulated by using either bandpass-filtered noises widely spaced in center frequency or broadband noises. Event-related potentials (ERPs) to the last B bursts were analyzed to compare the neural responses to the delay vs. no-delay trials in both passive and attentive listening conditions. In the passive listening condition, a trend for a possible late mismatch negativity (MMN) or late discriminative negativity (LDN) response was observed only when the A and B bursts were spectrally separate, suggesting that spectral separation in the A and B burst sequences could be conducive to stream segregation at the pre-attentive level. In the attentive condition, a P300 response was consistently elicited regardless of whether there was spectral separation between the A and B bursts, indicating the facilitative role of voluntary attention in stream segregation. The results suggest that reliable ERP measures can be used as indirect indicators for auditory stream segregation in conditions of weak spectral contrast. These findings have important implications for cochlear implant (CI) studies-as spectral information available through a CI device or simulation is substantially degraded, it may require more attention to achieve stream segregation.
Keywords: MMN; P300; P3b; attention; auditory stream segregation; bandpass noise; spectral separation; temporal pattern.