Asymmetries in behavioral and neural responses to spectral cues demonstrate the generality of auditory looming bias [Psychological and Cognitive Sciences]
Studies of auditory looming bias have shown that sources increasing in intensity are more salient than sources decreasing in intensity. Researchers have argued that listeners are more sensitive to approaching sounds compared with receding sounds, reflecting an evolutionary pressure. However, these studies only manipulated overall sound intensity; therefore, it is unclear whether looming bias is truly a perceptual bias for changes in source distance, or only in sound intensity. Here we demonstrate both behavioral and neural correlates of looming bias without manipulating overall sound intensity. In natural environments, the pinnae induce spectral cues that give rise to a sense of externalization; when spectral cues are unnatural, sounds are perceived as closer to the listener. We manipulated the contrast of individually tailored spectral cues to create sounds of similar intensity but different naturalness. We confirmed that sounds were perceived as approaching when spectral contrast decreased, and perceived as receding when spectral contrast increased. We measured behavior and electroencephalography while listeners judged motion direction. Behavioral responses showed a looming bias in that responses were more consistent for sounds perceived as approaching than for sounds perceived as receding. In a control experiment, looming bias disappeared when spectral contrast changes were discontinuous, suggesting that perceived motion in distance and not distance itself was driving the bias. Neurally, looming bias was reflected in an asymmetry of late event-related potentials associated with motion evaluation. Hence, both our behavioral and neural findings support a generalization of the auditory looming bias, representing a perceptual preference for approaching auditory objects.
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