The Influence of Adaptation and Inhibition on the Effects of Onset Asynchrony on Auditory Grouping

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Onset asynchrony is an important cue for auditory scene analysis. For example, a harmonic of a vowel that begins before the other components contributes less to the perceived phonetic quality. This effect was thought primarily to involve high-level grouping processes, because the contribution can be partly restored by accompanying the leading portion of the harmonic (precursor) with a synchronous captor tone an octave higher, and hence too remote to influence adaptation of the auditory-nerve response to that harmonic. However, recent work suggests that this restoration effect arises instead from inhibitory interactions relatively early in central auditory processing. The experiments reported here have reevaluated the role of adaptation in grouping by onset asynchrony and explored further the inhibitory account of the restoration effect. Varying the frequency of the precursor in the range ± 10% relative to the vowel harmonic (Experiment 1), or introducing a silent interval from 0 to 320 ms between the precursor and the vowel (Experiment 2), both produce effects on vowel quality consistent with those predicted from peripheral adaptation or recovery from it. However, there were some listeners for whom even the smallest gap largely eliminated the effect of the precursor. Consistent with the inhibitory account of the restoration effect, a contralateral pure tone whose frequency is close to that of the precursor is highly effective at restoring the contribution of the asynchronous harmonic (Experiment 3). When the frequencies match, lateralization cues arising from binaural fusion of the precursor and contralateral tone may also contribute to this restoration.

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