EEG signatures accompanying auditory figure-ground segregation

Neuroimage. 2016 Nov 1;141:108-119. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.07.028. Epub 2016 Jul 12.


In everyday acoustic scenes, figure-ground segregation typically requires one to group together sound elements over both time and frequency. Electroencephalogram was recorded while listeners detected repeating tonal complexes composed of a random set of pure tones within stimuli consisting of randomly varying tonal elements. The repeating pattern was perceived as a figure over the randomly changing background. It was found that detection performance improved both as the number of pure tones making up each repeated complex (figure coherence) increased, and as the number of repeated complexes (duration) increased - i.e., detection was easier when either the spectral or temporal structure of the figure was enhanced. Figure detection was accompanied by the elicitation of the object related negativity (ORN) and the P400 event-related potentials (ERPs), which have been previously shown to be evoked by the presence of two concurrent sounds. Both ERP components had generators within and outside of auditory cortex. The amplitudes of the ORN and the P400 increased with both figure coherence and figure duration. However, only the P400 amplitude correlated with detection performance. These results suggest that 1) the ORN and P400 reflect processes involved in detecting the emergence of a new auditory object in the presence of other concurrent auditory objects; 2) the ORN corresponds to the likelihood of the presence of two or more concurrent sound objects, whereas the P400 reflects the perceptual recognition of the presence of multiple auditory objects and/or preparation for reporting the detection of a target object.

Keywords: Auditory scene analysis; ERP source localization; Event-related brain potentials (ERP); Figure-ground segregation; Object-related negativity (ORN); Perceptual object.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Brain Waves / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods*
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Pattern Recognition, Physiological / physiology*
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology*
  • Pitch Perception / physiology*
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*