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Nature. 2000 Oct 19;407(6806):906-8.

Involuntary orienting to sound improves visual perception.

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Department of Neurosciences, School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla 92093-0608, USA.


To perceive real-world objects and events, we need to integrate several stimulus features belonging to different sensory modalities. Although the neural mechanisms and behavioural consequences of intersensory integration have been extensively studied, the processes that enable us to pay attention to multimodal objects are still poorly understood. An important question is whether a stimulus in one sensory modality automatically attracts attention to spatially coincident stimuli that appear subsequently in other modalities, thereby enhancing their perceptual salience. The occurrence of an irrelevant sound does facilitate motor responses to a subsequent light appearing nearby. However, because participants in previous studies made speeded responses rather than psychophysical judgements, it remains unclear whether involuntary auditory attention actually affects the perceptibility of visual stimuli as opposed to postperceptual decision and response processes. Here we provide psychophysical evidence that a sudden sound improves the detectability of a subsequent flash appearing at the same location. These data show that the involuntary orienting of attention to sound enhances early perceptual processing of visual stimuli.

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