Which Direction Is up for a High Pitch?

in Multisensory Research
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Low- and high-pitched sounds are perceptually associated with low and high visuospatial elevations, respectively. The spatial properties of this association are not well understood. Here we report two experiments that investigated whether low and high tones can be used as spatial cues to upright for self-orientation and identified the spatial frame(s) of reference used in perceptually binding auditory pitch to visuospatial ‘up’ and ‘down’. In experiment 1, participants’ perceptual upright (PU) was measured while lying on their right side with and without high- and low-pitched sounds played through speakers above their left ear and below their right ear. The sounds were ineffective in moving the perceived upright from a direction intermediate between the body and gravity towards the direction indicated by the sounds. In experiment 2, we measured the biasing effects of ascending and descending tones played through headphones on ambiguous vertical or horizontal visual motion created by combining gratings drifting in opposite directions while participants either sat upright or laid on their right side. Ascending and descending tones biased the interpretation of ambiguous motion along both the gravitational vertical and the long-axis of the body with the strongest effect along the body axis. The combination of these two effects showed that axis of maximum effect of sound corresponded approximately to the direction of the perceptual upright, compatible with the idea that ‘high’ and ‘low’ sounds are defined along this axis.

Which Direction Is up for a High Pitch?

in Multisensory Research

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    Setup and stimulus timings (ms) for experiment 1. (A) Participants lay on their right side with their ears unoccluded. Participants viewed the screen through a circular shroud. Speakers were positioned above and below the participant’s head. (B) Timing for static sounds showing the ‘p/d’ probe stimulus, and auditory stimuli from the upper and lower speakers. Responses could not be made until after a delay period. (C) Timing for the dynamic sounds.

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    Polar plots showing PSEs (left panels) and perceptual upright (PU, right panels) for the sound (black) vs. no-sound (white) conditions in the static-sound experiment (A) and dynamic-sound experiment (B). 0° corresponds to the top of the participant’s head and −90° to gravitational up. Inner lines show the orientations for each individual subject while the outer lines show mean values.

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    Conditions for experiment 2. (A) The four orientation and visual motion combinations. In the top row, body orientation is upright whereas in the bottom row they are laying on their right side. In the left column visual motion direction is leftward/rightward relative to head, and in the right column visual motion direction is upward/downward relative to the head. (B) The timings of stimulus presentations in ms for the synchronous and asynchronous trials.

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    Psychometric functions for each of the four orientation and visual motion direction combinations. These illustrative psychometric functions were fit to the means of all participants. The y-axis represents the percent of leftward (left panels) or upward responses (right panels) while the x-axis represents the relative contrast of the oppositely moving gratings that made up each stimulus. For the on-side leftward/rightward panels, leftward visual motion corresponds to gravitational upwards. The three curves in each graph represent best-fit logistics to the mean participant responses for each of the three sound conditions (solid for descending, dotted for noise, dashed for ascending). Error bars show standard errors between participants.

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    The relative sizes of the effects of sound along the long axis of the body and along the gravitational vertical are show here along with their vector sum. The angle of the resultant auditory pitch effect was tilted 10.2° towards gravitational vertical.

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