Seeing the Intensity of a Sound-producing Event Modulates the Amplitude of the Initial Auditory Evoked Response

J Cogn Neurosci. 2020 Mar;32(3):426-434. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01486. Epub 2019 Oct 29.


An auditory event is often accompanied by characteristic visual information. For example, the sound level produced by a vigorous handclap may be related to the speed of hands as they move toward collision. Here, we tested the hypothesis that visual information about the intensity of auditory signals are capable of altering the subsequent neurophysiological response to auditory stimulation. To do this, we used EEG to measure the response of the human brain (n = 28) to the audiovisual delivery of handclaps. Depictions of a weak handclap were accompanied by auditory handclaps at low (65 dB) and intermediate (72.5 dB) sound levels, whereas depictions of a vigorous handclap were accompanied by auditory handclaps at intermediate (72.5 dB) and high (80 dB) sound levels. The dependent variable was the amplitude of the initial negative component (N1) of the auditory evoked potential. We find that identical clap sounds (intermediate level; 72.5 dB) elicited significantly lower N1 amplitudes when paired with a video of a weak clap, compared with when paired with a video of a vigorous clap. These results demonstrate that intensity predictions can affect the neural responses to auditory stimulation at very early stages (<100 msec) in sensory processing. Furthermore, the established sound-level dependence of auditory N1 amplitude suggests that such effects may serve the functional role of altering auditory responses in accordance with visual inferences. Thus, this study provides evidence that the neurally evoked response to an auditory event results from a combination of a person's beliefs with incoming auditory input.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult