Attention regulates the plasticity of multisensory timing


Dr J. Heron, as above.


Evidence suggests than human time perception is likely to reflect an ensemble of recent temporal experience. For example, prolonged exposure to consistent temporal patterns can adaptively realign the perception of event order, both within and between sensory modalities (e.g. Fujisaki et al., 2004 Nat. Neurosci., 7, 773–778). In addition, the observation that ‘a watched pot never boils’ serves to illustrate the fact that dynamic shifts in our attentional state can also produce marked distortions in our temporal estimates. In the current study we provide evidence for a hitherto unknown link between adaptation, temporal perception and our attentional state. We show that our ability to use recent sensory history as a perceptual baseline for ongoing temporal judgments is subject to striking top-down modulation via shifts in the observer’s selective attention. Specifically, attending to the temporal structure of asynchronous auditory and visual adapting stimuli generates a substantial increase in the temporal recalibration induced by these stimuli. We propose a conceptual framework accounting for our findings whereby attention modulates the perceived salience of temporal patterns. This heightened salience allows the formation of audiovisual perceptual ‘objects’, defined solely by their temporal structure. Repeated exposure to these objects induces high-level pattern adaptation effects, akin to those found in visual and auditory domains (e.g. Leopold & Bondar (2005) Fitting the Mind to the World: Adaptation and Aftereffects in High-Level Vision. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 189–211; Schweinberger et al. (2008) Curr. Biol., 18, 684–688).