Females of several acoustic insects and anurans have recently been shown to orient preferentially to the leading of two identical male calls presented in close succession. We studied this phenomenon via two-choice phonotaxis trials in the neotropical katydid Neoconocephalus spiza and found that females avoided male calls occurring during an interval beginning immediately after the onset of a leading call. This avoidance occurred whether or not the following call was overlapped by the leader, indicating that the mechanism of preference for leading calls may represent a psychoacoustic precedence effect rather than simple call masking. We also found that females preferred leading calls as long as the amplitude of the following call was not more than 2 dB higher than the leader. Under certain circumstances, preferences for leading calls remained when females were presented with a sequence of four calls. Thus, preferences for leading calls probably influence a male's attractiveness and mating success in complex natural choruses: females are expected to orient towards males producing leading calls regardless of call length (and the probability of overlapping a following call), when the leading call is up to 1.5 times as distant as a follower, and when succeeded by multiple followers. We suggest that female preferences for leading male calls represent sensory biases that originated in contexts unrelated to sexual selection. None the less they currently play an important role in sexual selection and influence individual male signalling behaviour, and thus chorus structure. Copyright 1998 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.