Rising Sound Intensity: An Intrinsic Warning Cue Activating the Amygdala

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Human subjects overestimate the change of rising intensity sounds compared with falling intensity sounds. Rising sound intensity has therefore been proposed to be an intrinsic warning cue. In order to test this hypothesis, we presented rising, falling, and constant intensity sounds to healthy humans and gathered psychophysiological and behavioral responses. Brain activity was measured using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging. We found that rising compared with falling sound intensity facilitates autonomic orienting reflex and phasic alertness to auditory targets. Rising intensity sounds produced neural activity in the amygdala, which was accompanied by activity in intraparietal sulcus, superior temporal sulcus, and temporal plane. Our results indicate that rising sound intensity is an elementary warning cue eliciting adaptive responses by recruiting attentional and physiological resources. Regions involved in cross-modal integration were activated by rising sound intensity, while the right-hemisphere phasic alertness network could not be supported by this study.

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