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J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2011 Dec;37(6):1976-87. doi: 10.1037/a0024321. Epub 2011 Jul 4.

Frequency-shift detectors bind binaural as well as monaural frequency representations.

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Institut de Neurosciences Cognitives et Integratives d'Aquitaine, Universite de Bordeaux, France.


Previous psychophysical work provided evidence for the existence of automatic frequency-shift detectors (FSDs) that establish perceptual links between successive sounds. In this study, we investigated the characteristics of the FSDs with respect to the binaural system. Listeners were presented with sound sequences consisting of a chord of pure tones followed by a single test tone. Two tasks were performed. In the "present/absent" task, the test tone was either identical to one of the chord components or positioned halfway in frequency between two components, and listeners had to discriminate between these two possibilities. In the "up/down" task, the test tone was slightly different in frequency from one of the chord components and listeners had to identify the direction (up or down) of the corresponding shift. When the test tone was a pure tone presented monaurally, either to the same ear as the chord or to the opposite ear, listeners performed the up/down task better than the present/absent task. This paradoxical advantage for directional frequency shifts, providing evidence for FSDs, persisted when the test tone was replaced by a dichotic stimulus consisting of noise but evoking a pitch sensation as a consequence of binaural processing. Performance in the up/down task was similar for the dichotic stimulus and for a monaural narrow-band noise matched in pitch salience to it. Our results indicate that the FSDs are insensitive to sound localization mechanisms and operate on central frequency representations, at or above the level of convergence of the monaural auditory pathways.

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