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Keywords:

  • human;
  • multisensory integration;
  • orienting;
  • saccades;
  • spatial behaviour

Abstract

Orienting responses to audiovisual events in the environment can benefit markedly by the integration of visual and auditory spatial information. However, logically, audiovisual integration would only be considered successful for stimuli that are spatially and temporally aligned, as these would be emitted by a single object in space–time. As humans do not have prior knowledge about whether novel auditory and visual events do indeed emanate from the same object, such information needs to be extracted from a variety of sources. For example, expectation about alignment or misalignment could modulate the strength of multisensory integration. If evidence from previous trials would repeatedly favour aligned audiovisual inputs, the internal state might also assume alignment for the next trial, and hence react to a new audiovisual event as if it were aligned. To test for such a strategy, subjects oriented a head-fixed pointer as fast as possible to a visual flash that was consistently paired, though not always spatially aligned, with a co-occurring broadband sound. We varied the probability of audiovisual alignment between experiments. Reaction times were consistently lower in blocks containing only aligned audiovisual stimuli than in blocks also containing pseudorandomly presented spatially disparate stimuli. Results demonstrate dynamic updating of the subject’s prior expectation of audiovisual congruency. We discuss a model of prior probability estimation to explain the results.