The unity assumption facilitates cross-modal binding of musical, non-speech stimuli: The role of spectral and amplitude envelope cues
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An observer's inference that multimodal signals originate from a common underlying source facilitates cross-modal binding. This 'unity assumption' causes asynchronous auditory and visual speech streams to seem simultaneous (Vatakis & Spence, Perception & Psychophysics, 69(5), 744-756, 2007). Subsequent tests of non-speech stimuli such as musical and impact events found no evidence for the unity assumption, suggesting the effect is speech-specific (Vatakis & Spence, Acta Psychologica, 127(1), 12-23, 2008). However, the role of amplitude envelope (the changes in energy of a sound over time) was not previously appreciated within this paradigm. Here, we explore whether previous findings suggesting speech-specificity of the unity assumption were confounded by similarities in the amplitude envelopes of the contrasted auditory stimuli. Experiment 1 used natural events with clearly differentiated envelopes: single notes played on either a cello (bowing motion) or marimba (striking motion). Participants performed an un-speeded temporal order judgments task; viewing audio-visually matched (e.g., marimba auditory with marimba video) and mismatched (e.g., cello auditory with marimba video) versions of stimuli at various stimulus onset asynchronies, and were required to indicate which modality was presented first. As predicted, participants were less sensitive to temporal order in matched conditions, demonstrating that the unity assumption can facilitate the perception of synchrony outside of speech stimuli. Results from Experiments 2 and 3 revealed that when spectral information was removed from the original auditory stimuli, amplitude envelope alone could not facilitate the influence of audiovisual unity. We propose that both amplitude envelope and spectral acoustic cues affect the percept of audiovisual unity, working in concert to help an observer determine when to integrate across modalities.
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