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J Vis. 2017 Mar 1;17(3):20. doi: 10.1167/17.3.20.

Cross-modal attention influences auditory contrast sensitivity: Decreasing visual load improves auditory thresholds for amplitude- and frequency-modulated sounds.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, Developmental and Brain Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA, USAvivian.ciaramitaro@umb.edu.
2
Department of Psychology, Developmental and Brain Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA, USAdorischm@gmail.com.
3
Department of Psychology, Developmental and Brain Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA, USADepartment of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH, USALuke.G.Eglington.GR@dartmouth.edu.

Abstract

We used a cross-modal dual task to examine how changing visual-task demands influenced auditory processing, namely auditory thresholds for amplitude- and frequency-modulated sounds. Observers had to attend to two consecutive intervals of sounds and report which interval contained the auditory stimulus that was modulated in amplitude (Experiment 1) or frequency (Experiment 2). During auditory-stimulus presentation, observers simultaneously attended to a rapid sequential visual presentation-two consecutive intervals of streams of visual letters-and had to report which interval contained a particular color (low load, demanding less attentional resources) or, in separate blocks of trials, which interval contained more of a target letter (high load, demanding more attentional resources). We hypothesized that if attention is a shared resource across vision and audition, an easier visual task should free up more attentional resources for auditory processing on an unrelated task, hence improving auditory thresholds. Auditory detection thresholds were lower-that is, auditory sensitivity was improved-for both amplitude- and frequency-modulated sounds when observers engaged in a less demanding (compared to a more demanding) visual task. In accord with previous work, our findings suggest that visual-task demands can influence the processing of auditory information on an unrelated concurrent task, providing support for shared attentional resources. More importantly, our results suggest that attending to information in a different modality, cross-modal attention, can influence basic auditory contrast sensitivity functions, highlighting potential similarities between basic mechanisms for visual and auditory attention.

PMID:
28355632
DOI:
10.1167/17.3.20
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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