Journal of neuroscience vol:30 issue:1 pages:194-204
To program a goal-directed orienting response toward a sound source embedded in an acoustic scene, the audiomotor system should detect and select the target against a background. Here, we focus on whether the system can segregate synchronous sounds in the midsagittal plane (elevation), a task requiring the auditory system to dissociate the pinna-induced spectral localization cues. Human listeners made rapid head-orienting responses toward either a single sound source (broadband buzzer or Gaussian noise) or toward two simultaneously presented sounds (buzzer and noise) at a wide variety of locations in the midsagittal plane. In the latter case, listeners had to orient to the buzzer (target) and ignore the noise (nontarget). In the single-sound condition, localization was accurate. However, in the double-sound condition, response endpoints depended on relative sound level and spatial disparity. The loudest sound dominated the responses, regardless of whether it was the target or the nontarget. When the sounds had about equal intensities and their spatial disparity was sufficiently small, endpoint distributions were well described by weighted averaging. However, when spatial disparities exceeded similar to 45 degrees, response endpoint distributions became bimodal. Similar response behavior has been reported for visuomotor experiments, for which averaging and bimodal endpoint distributions are thought to arise from neural interactions within retinotopically organized visuomotor maps. We show, however, that the auditory-evoked responses can be well explained by the idiosyncratic acoustics of the pinnae. Hence basic principles of target representation and selection for audition and vision appear to differ profoundly.