Knowing when to hear aids what to hear

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  • This article was downloaded by: [DUT Library]On: 06 October 2014, At: 03:27Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office:Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Knowing when to hear aids what to hearKarin M. Bausenhart a , Bettina Rolke a & Rolf Ulrich aa University of Tbingen , Tbingen, GermanyPublished online: 06 Nov 2007.

    To cite this article: Karin M. Bausenhart , Bettina Rolke & Rolf Ulrich (2007) Knowing when tohear aids what to hear, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60:12, 1610-1615, DOI:10.1080/17470210701536419

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  • Short article

    Knowing when to hear aids what to hear

    Karin M. Bausenhart, Bettina Rolke, and Rolf UlrichUniversity of Tubingen, Tubingen, Germany

    Temporal preparation often has been assumed to influence motor stages of information processing.Recent studies, however, challenge this notion and provide evidence for a facilitation of visual proces-sing. The present study was designed to investigate whether perceptual processing in the auditorydomain also benefits from temporal preparation. To this end, we employed a pitch discriminationtask. In Experiment 1, discrimination performance was clearly improved when participants were tem-porally prepared. This finding was confirmed in Experiment 2, which ruled out possible influences ofshort-term memory. The results support the notion that temporal preparation enhances perceptualprocessing not only in the visual, but also in the auditory, modality.

    If a warning signal announces the temporaloccurrence of a stimulus, one can prepare for thatmoment and thus respond especially quickly(Niemi & Naatanen, 1981). Although this effectof temporal preparation is well established andhas been extensively studied by means of reactiontime (RT) and psychophysiological measures, themechanism that contributes to this effect is stillunclear. Several studies have shown an influenceof temporal preparation on motor processing.For example, it has been shown that temporalpreparation influences motor-related measuressuch as response force, reflex amplitude, transcra-nially evoked motor potentials, and the contingentnegative variation (for an overview, see Muller-Gethmann, Ulrich, & Rinkenauer, 2003).

    Therefore, it has been suggested that temporalpreparation exhibits a rather unspecific influenceby activating the motor system (e.g., Naatanen,1971).

    Other studies, however, questioned this pre-vailing notion and showed that stimulus proces-sing at premotoric stages is accelerated bytemporal preparation (Bausenhart, Rolke,Hackley, & Ulrich, 2006; Muller-Gethmannet al., 2003). Moreover, very recent studies havefound that temporal preparation improves visualdiscrimination (Correa, Lupianez, Milliken, &Tudela, 2004; Correa, Lupianez, & Tudela,2005; Rolke & Hofmann, 2007). For example,Rolke and Hofmann investigated the effects oftemporal preparation on visual perception by

    Correspondence should be addressed to Karin Bausenhart, Psychologisches Institut, University of Tubingen, Friedrichstrasse 21,D-72072 Tubingen, Germany. E-mail: karin.bausenhart@uni-tuebingen.de

    This study was supported by Grant RO 3034/1 of the German Research Foundation (DFG). We thank Allen Osman and JeffMiller for helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

    1610 # 2007 The Experimental Psychology Societyhttp://www.psypress.com/qjep DOI:10.1080/17470210701536419

    THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY

    2007, 60 (12), 16101615

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  • employing a constant foreperiod paradigm.Specifically, the foreperiod duration (i.e., thetime between a warning signal and the subsequenttarget presentation) was kept constant within ablock of trials, but varied across blocks of trials.In this foreperiod paradigm, participants canmore exactly estimate the duration of a foreperiodwhen this duration is short rather than long.Hence, temporal preparation for targets followingshort foreperiods is superior compared to targetsthat are preceded by long foreperiods (e.g.,Naatanen, Muranen, & Merisalo, 1974). Rolkeand Hofmann employed a backward masking pro-cedure and required their participants to judgewhether the masked target stimulus (a Landoltsquare) contained a small spatial gap on eitherthe right or the left side. Consistent with formerstudies (e.g., Muller-Gethmann et al., 2003;Naatanen et al., 1974), reactions were fasterwhen foreperiod was short and therefore enabledparticipants to prepare temporally. Most import-ant, however, is the finding that also the accuracyof spatial gap discrimination was improved byshort foreperiods. Thus, these results show thattemporal preparation enhances perceptual proces-sing within the visual modality.

    This perceptual facilitation by temporal prep-aration questions the unspecific motor characterof the temporal preparation effect and relates theunderlying mechanism to attention. Specifically,temporal preparation might direct attention tospecific moments in time. As a consequence, per-ceptual processing of stimuli presented at theseattended moments would be facilitated. Such apositive influence of attention on perceptual pro-cessing has been repeatedly demonstrated in thefield of spatial attention. For example, it hasbeen shown that spatial orienting of attentionfacilitates perceptual processing within the visualmodality (e.g., Cheal, Lyon, & Hubbard, 1991;Yeshurun & Carrasco, 1999). Moreover, spatialorienting also improves auditory processing(Mondor & Zatorre, 1995; Spence & Driver,1994). Spence and Driver (1994), for example,found improved target localization and pitch dis-crimination when attention was directed to theside of target presentation by means of a predictive

    auditory cue. Such facilitating effects of spatialattention orienting can also be observed acrossdifferent modalities as vision, audition, and touch(e.g., Spence & Driver, 1997; Spence, Nicholls,Gillespie, & Driver, 1998). According to theseresults, attentional selection can be described as ageneral, modality-independent process.

    Thus, if temporal preparation exerts its effectsby enabling an orientation of attention to time, itshould, like spatial attention, not only facilitatevisual perceptual processing, but also enhance per-ceptual processing within other sensory modal-ities. The aim of the present study was to testthis temporal attention assumption by measuringthe influence of temporal preparation on auditoryprocessing. A facilitating effect of temporal prep-aration would further strengthen the notion thattemporal preparation can be regarded as ageneral, modality-unspecific, attentionalmechanism.

    EXPERIMENT 1

    We investigated the influence of temporal prep-aration on auditory perceptual processing bymeasuring pitch discrimination thresholds withan adaptive single stimulus presentation pro-cedure. Temporal preparation was manipulatedby means of a constant foreperiod paradigm.

    Method

    ParticipantsA total of 14 participants (mean age 26.9 years),among them 9 women, participated.

    Stimuli and apparatusThe target stimulus was a pure sinusoidal tone of800 or 816 Hz (70 db SPL). This target was pre-ceded by a warning signal and was followed by amask, both of which consisted of white Gaussiannoise (average power 80 db SPL, maximum fre-quency 11128 Hz). All auditory stimuli were pre-sented binaurally over headphones.

    THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 2007, 60 (12) 1611

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  • ProcedureEach trial (see Figure 1) started with the presen-tation of a silent interval of variable duration, ran-domly selected from an exponential distributionwith a mean of 2,000 ms. Then, the warningsignal was presented for 200 ms and was followedby another silent interval of 600 or 2,200 ms,yielding foreperiod durations of 800 or 2,400 ms,respectively. At the end of the foreperiod, one ofthe two target stimuli was presented and wasimmediately followed by the mask for 300 ms.To discourage speeded responding, after a silentinterval of 500 ms, a visual signal appeared onthe screen indicating that a decision was requiredwithin 2,000 ms. Participants indicated by a keypress which of the two targets had been presented(two-alternative forced-choice task). The trialended after an additional 800 ms.

    Each of the two foreperiod durations was pre-sented for 230 successive trials, and the order offoreperiod conditions was balanced across partici-pants. In the first 30 trials of each foreperiod con-dition, target duration was kept constant at 50 msto familiarize participants with the two pitches.These trials were discarded from data analysis.For the following trials, the duration of thetarget was changed adaptively according to theweighted up-and-down procedure by Kaernbach(1991) in order to estimate the target durationassociated with 75% correct responses for eachforeperiod duration and participant (i.e., thresholdduration). Specifically, after each correct response,target duration was decreased by 2 ms, while aftereach incorrect response, target duration wasincreased by 6 ms. Since it is known that pitch

    discrimination deteriorates with decreasing targetduration (e.g., Moore, 1973), smaller thresholddurations indicate better performance.

    Results and discussion

    A t test on threshold duration revealed better per-formance for short foreperiods (threshold duration 21.5 ms) than for long foreperiods (thresholdduration 27.8 ms), t(13) 2.82; p , .05.Thus, temporal preparation facilitates pitch dis-crimination. Therefore, this result stronglysuggests a perceptual locus of temporalpreparation.

    The present results, however, are subject to analternative interpretation. According to thisinterpretation, not only temporal preparation butalso short-term memory (STM) processes wereinfluenced by the employment of different foreper-iods. Specifically, within the single stimulus pres-entation procedure employed here, participantshave to form a memory representation of each ofthe two target tones (or of a single subjective stan-dard tone with a pitch between the two targettones) to enable decisions about target pitch.Given that short foreperiod trials have a shorteroverall duration than long foreperiod trials, theincreased rate of target presentation within theshort foreperiod condition might have especiallystrengthened the STM representations of thetargets in this condition. As a consequence, amore stable representation of the target toneswould have been built in the short foreperiod con-dition, thereby improving pitch discrimination inthis condition. Thus, Experiment 2 was designed

    Figure 1. Time course of a single experimental trial in Experiment 1.

    1612 THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 2007, 60 (12)

    BAUSENHART, ROLKE, ULRICH

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  • to overcome potential STM effects within thesingle stimulus presentation procedure employedhere.

    EXPERIMENT 2

    Experiment 2 was conducted to out rule thisalternative interpretation of Experiment 1 and tostrengthen the notion that temporal preparationfacilitates early auditory processing. To this end,trial duration in both foreperiod conditions waskept constant, thereby minimizing possible influ-ences on the stability of STM representations.Thus, if temporal preparation exerts its influencevia a facilitation of perceptual processing, weagain expect improved pitch discrimination associ-ated with short compared to long foreperiods. If,however, the positive influence of temporal prep-aration on pitch discrimination observed inExperiment 1 was solely due to STM processes,Experiment 2 should not reveal such a pattern.

    Method

    ParticipantsA fresh sample of 18 participants (mean age 27.7years, 12 female) was recruited.

    Stimuli and apparatusAll stimuli were identical to those employed inExperiment 1.

    ProcedureThe procedure was identical to that of Experiment1, except for the following change. In case of theshort foreperiod duration, an additional timeinterval of 1,600 ms was introduced between thevariable intertrial interval and the presentation ofthe warning signal. This interval, combined withthe short foreperiod duration (800 ms), added upto 2,400 ms. Consequently, the duration of shortforeperiod trials exactly mirrored the duration oflong foreperiod (2,400 ms) trials. Thus, an equalrate of target stimulus presentation was providedfor both conditions of temporal preparation.

    Results and discussion

    As in Experiment 1, a t test on threshold durationrevealed better pitch discrimination performancefor short foreperiods (threshold duration 16.9 ms) than for long foreperiods (threshold dur-ation 20.1 ms), t(17) 2.12; p, .05. Since thiseffect in absolute terms is smaller than the one inExperiment 1, STM processes might have alsocontributed to the effect obtained in Experiment1. However, this possibility has been ruled out inthe present experiment. Thus, the effect of tem-poral preparation on pitch discrimination per-formance observed here further strengthens theidea that temporal preparation aids perceptualprocessing.

    GENERAL DISCUSSION

    Our results show that temporal preparationenhances pitch discrimination performance.Specifically, shorter target durations were necessaryto identify pitch correctly in 75% of all trials follow-ing short foreperiods, which allow better temporalprediction of target onset than after long foreper-iods. Because the discrimination task employedhere depends primarily on perceptual processing,an exclusive motor locus of temporal preparationeffects has to be rejected on basis of the presentresults. The results of Experiment 2 ruled out analternative explanation according to which thefacilitating effect obtained in Experiment 1 mighthave been due to an especially stable internalrepresentation of the target stimuli in the shortforeperiod condition.

    The present results agree with the improveddiscrimination performance following short fore-periods within the visual modality (Rolke &Hofmann, 2007). They also are in line withother studies that manipulated temporal prep-aration by means of endogenous temporal cues(Correa et al., 2005). Therefore, comparable tospatial orienting processes, the mechanism bywhich temporal preparation aids perceptualprocessing can be characterized as a modality-unspecific attentional orienting mechanism.

    THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, 2007, 60 (12) 1613

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  • The present result has also important impli-cations for theorizing about the role of attentionin audition. Specifically, it has been well demon-strated that attention can be directed to specificfrequency regions, thereby improving perceptualaccuracy for stimuli within these regions(Hubner & Hafter, 1995; Ward, 1997).Likewise, orienting attention to a spatial directioncan also facilitate discrimination of auditorystimuli from that direction (e.g., Spence &Driver, 1994). Based on these findings,Mondor, Zatorre, and Terrio (1998) proposedthat selection of auditory information dependson an attentional template defined by both fre-quency and location. In contrast, we used awarning signal that was uninformative aboutinherent properties of the target, as its frequencyor its spatial location. Nonetheless, this unspeci-fic warning signal did improve pitch discrimi-nation. This perceptual facilitation might reflectthat the time of occurrence per se serves as atarget feature that can be used for attentionalselection. Alternatively, temporal preparationmight have raised the effectiveness with whichattention to nontemporal stimulus features, suchas frequency or location, was focused on thetarget (see Doherty, Rao, Mesulam, & Nobre,2005, for a similar account in visual attention).In either case, the present result highlights theimportance of the temporal dynamics in orientingof attention. Therefore, considering the role oftemporal preparation seems to be necessary forany complete account of attention in the auditorydomain.

    Taken together, the present experimentsprovide evidence for a perceptual locus of temporalpreparation and suggest that it exerts its influencethrough a modality-unspecific attentional facili-tation of stimulus processing. Accordingly, thesefindings might be especially useful to developnew theories about the role of temporal prep-aration and to advance our understanding of theunderlying attentional mechanisms.

    Original manuscript received 21 March 2007Accepted revision received 15 June 2007First published online 21 August 2007

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