Neural dynamics of change detection in crowded acoustic scenes

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Abstract

Two key questions concerning change detection in crowded acoustic environments are the extent to which cortical processing is specialized for different forms of acoustic change and when in the time-course of cortical processing neural activity becomes predictive of behavioral outcomes. Here, we address these issues by using magnetoencephalography (MEG) to probe the cortical dynamics of change detection in ongoing acoustic scenes containing as many as ten concurrent sources. Each source was formed of a sequence of tone pips with a unique carrier frequency and temporal modulation pattern, designed to mimic the spectrotemporal structure of natural sounds. Our results show that listeners are more accurate and quicker to detect the appearance (than disappearance) of an auditory source in the ongoing scene. Underpinning this behavioral asymmetry are change-evoked responses differing not only in magnitude and latency, but also in their spatial patterns. We find that even the earliest (˜ 50 ms) cortical response to change is predictive of behavioral outcomes (detection times), consistent with the hypothesized role of local neural transients in supporting change detection.

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