Neural correlates of auditory scale illusion

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The auditory illusory perception “scale illusion” occurs when ascending and descending musical scale tones are delivered in a dichotic manner, such that the higher or lower tone at each instant is presented alternately to the right and left ears. Resulting tone sequences have a zigzag pitch in one ear and the reversed (zagzig) pitch in the other ear. Most listeners hear illusory smooth pitch sequences of up-down and down-up streams in the two ears separated in higher and lower halves of the scale. Although many behavioral studies have been conducted, how and where in the brain the illusory percept is formed have not been elucidated. In this study, we conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging using sequential tones that induced scale illusion (ILL) and those that mimicked the percept of scale illusion (PCP), and we compared the activation responses evoked by those stimuli by region-of-interest analysis. We examined the effects of adaptation, i.e., the attenuation of response that occurs when close-frequency sounds are repeated, which might interfere with the changes in activation by the illusion process. Results of the activation difference of the two stimuli, measured at varied tempi of tone presentation, in the superior temporal auditory cortex were not explained by adaptation. Instead, excess activation of the ILL stimulus from the PCP stimulus at moderate tempi (83 and 126 bpm) was significant in the posterior auditory cortex with rightward superiority, while significant prefrontal activation was dominant at the highest tempo (245 bpm). We suggest that the area of the planum temporale posterior to the primary auditory cortex is mainly involved in the illusion formation, and that the illusion-related process is strongly dependent on the rate of tone presentation.

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