Do humans and neurons adapt to recent sound statistics? When people spend time listening to sounds that come from a very narrow range of locations (statisticians would call this a low-variance distribution), they become very sensitive to even small changes in sound location. On the other hand, if people spend time listening to sounds that come from a very wide range of locations (a high-variance distribution), they become less sensitive to small changes in sound location. An individual’s perception of sound location is also affected by the average (or mean) location of sounds heard immediately before. For example, if you hear lots of sounds on the left-hand side of space, a sound subsequently presented straight in front of you will sound like it is coming from the right. This paper was the first to show that these phenomena can be seen in human behaviour. But we also showed that similar phenomena are seen in the responses of neurons in the mid-brain (specifically the inferior colliculus). In conjunction with many other studies, this shows that our perceptions are influenced by previous experience.
Dahmen JC, Keating P, Nodal FR, Schulz AL, King AJ (2010) Adaptation to stimulus statistics in the perception and neural representation of auditory space. Neuron 66:937-948.
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