Auditory Enhancement of Illusory Contour Perception

Multisens Res. 2020 Jun 1;34(1):1-15. doi: 10.1163/22134808-bja10018.


Illusory contours (ICs) are borders that are perceived in the absence of contrast gradients. Until recently, IC processes were considered exclusively visual in nature and presumed to be unaffected by information from other senses. Electrophysiological data in humans indicates that sounds can enhance IC processes. Despite cross-modal enhancement being observed at the neurophysiological level, to date there is no evidence of direct amplification of behavioural performance in IC processing by sounds. We addressed this knowledge gap. Healthy adults ( n = 15) discriminated instances when inducers were arranged to form an IC from instances when no IC was formed (NC). Inducers were low-constrast and masked, and there was continuous background acoustic noise throughout a block of trials. On half of the trials, i.e., independently of IC vs NC, a 1000-Hz tone was presented synchronously with the inducer stimuli. Sound presence improved the accuracy of indicating when an IC was presented, but had no impact on performance with NC stimuli (significant IC presence/absence × Sound presence/absence interaction). There was no evidence that this was due to general alerting or to a speed-accuracy trade-off (no main effect of sound presence on accuracy rates and no comparable significant interaction on reaction times). Moreover, sound presence increased sensitivity and reduced bias on the IC vs NC discrimination task. These results demonstrate that multisensory processes augment mid-level visual functions, exemplified by IC processes. Aside from the impact on neurobiological and computational models of vision, our findings may prove clinically beneficial for low-vision or sight-restored patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual
  • Female
  • Form Perception / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Illusions / physiology*
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Young Adult