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Multisensory processing in brain and behavior: One size fits all?

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The world is multimodal and everyday perception relies on the complementary roles of simultaneously active sensory systems. Two major approaches have guided the recent wave of scientific studies on multisensory processing in brain and behavior. The phenomenological approach, typically advocated by psychologists and philosophers, investigates the often surprising impact of multisensory information on even sensory-specific perceptual experiences, such as hearing a friend speak. The neurophysiological approach emerged from the pioneering studies on crossmodal influences on the orienting response by Barry Stein, Alex Meredith, and their colleagues in the 1980ies and 1990ies. The spiking rate of multisensory neurons embedded in neural networks are under scrutiny, an endeavor that has been instrumental in revealing some of the basic mechanisms underlying multisensory processing at neural and behavioral levels in non-human animals.

Both of these approaches provide a base of knowledge for the work presented in this talk. The focus is on the sensory-specific experience of auditory pitch and the question put forth is whether visually induced gains in pitch discrimination depend in systematic ways on participants’ auditory sensitivity and expertise, according to the same principles of multisensory processing that govern the level of single neurons in the midbrain superior colliculus. Specifically, we used the crossmodal correspondence between auditory pitch and visually perceived vertical position to shed light on the benefits of multisensory compared to unisensory processing, and on the inter-connections and inter-dependence of behavior (measured in a pitch discrimination task), neurophysiology (as measured with magnetoencephalography), and neuroanatomy (using magnetic resonance and diffusion tensor imaging). We addressed group-averaged effects as well as the variability that characterizes responses across individuals with varying levels of auditory sensitivity and expertise, i.e., participants with and without extensive musical training.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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