Auditory Spectral Versus Spatial Temporal Order Judgment: Threshold Distribution Analysis

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Abstract

Some researchers suggested that one central mechanism is responsible for temporal order judgments (TOJ), within and across sensory channels. This suggestion is supported by findings of similar TOJ thresholds in same modality and cross-modality TOJ tasks. In the present study, we challenge this idea by analyzing and comparing the threshold distributions of the spectral and spatial TOJ tasks. In spectral TOJ, the tones differ in their frequency (“high” and “low”) and are delivered either binaurally or monaurally. In spatial (or dichotic) TOJ, the two tones are identical but are presented asynchronously to the two ears and thus differ with respect to which ear received the first tone and which ear received the second tone (“left”/“left”). Although both tasks are regarded as measures of auditory temporal processing, a review of data published in the literature suggests that they trigger different patterns of response. The aim of the current study was to systematically examine spectral and spatial TOJ threshold distributions across a large number of studies. Data are based on 388 participants in 13 spectral TOJ experiments, and 222 participants in 9 spatial TOJ experiments. None of the spatial TOJ distributions deviated significantly from the Gaussian; while all of the spectral TOJ threshold distributions were skewed to the right, with more than half of the participants accurately judging temporal order at very short interstimulus intervals (ISI). The data do not support the hypothesis that 1 central mechanism is responsible for all temporal order judgments. We suggest that different perceptual strategies are employed when performing spectral TOJ than when performing spatial TOJ. We posit that the spectral TOJ paradigm may provide the opportunity for two-tone masking or temporal integration, which is sensitive to the order of the tones and thus provides perceptual cues that may be used to judge temporal order. This possibility should be considered when interpreting spectral TOJ data, especially in the context of comparing different populations.

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