Effect of pitch–space correspondence on sound-induced visual motion perception

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The brain tends to associate specific features of stimuli across sensory modalities. The pitch of a sound is for example associated with spatial elevation such that higher-pitched sounds are felt as being “up” in space and lower-pitched sounds as being “down.” Here we investigated whether changes in the pitch of sounds could be effective for visual motion perception similar to those in the location of sounds. We demonstrated that only sounds that alternate in up/down location induced illusory vertical motion of a static visual stimulus, while sounds that alternate in higher/lower pitch did not induce this illusion. The pitch of a sound did not even modulate the visual motion perception induced by sounds alternating in up/down location. Interestingly, though, sounds alternating in higher/lower pitch could become a driver for visual motion if they were paired in a previous exposure phase with vertical visual apparent motion. Thus, only after prolonged exposure, the pitch of a sound became an inducer for upper/lower visual motion. This occurred even if during exposure the pitch and location of the sounds were paired in an incongruent fashion. These findings indicate that pitch–space correspondence is not so strong to drive or modulate visual motion perception. However, associative exposure could increase the saliency of pitch–space relationships and then the pitch could induce visual motion perception by itself.

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  1. 1.

    We confirmed that the stimuli could be discriminated only by pitch. We sequentially presented higher- and lower-pitched tones, or vice versa, with 1,000 ms of ISI and asked 10 participants to judge which tone was perceived as higher in pitch or larger in amplitude (these response domains were randomly assigned in each trial). Pitch discrimination performance was nearly perfect (percentage of correct responses (standard errors of the mean) was 94.5 % (1.9 %) and 93 % (2.1 %) in the monaural and binaural presentations, respectively). On the contrary, amplitude discrimination performance was not significantly different from chance (54.5 % (9.0 %) and 55.0 % (8.9 %), t(9) = 0.50 and 0.58, in the monaural and binaural presentations, respectively).


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We thank Wouter D.H. Stumpel for his technical supports. We are grateful to anonymous reviewers for their valuable and insightful comments and suggestions for early versions of the manuscript. This research was supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Grant-in-Aid for Specially Promoted Research (No. 19001004) and Rikkyo University Special Fund for Research.

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Correspondence to Souta Hidaka.

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Hidaka, S., Teramoto, W., Keetels, M. et al. Effect of pitch–space correspondence on sound-induced visual motion perception. Exp Brain Res 231, 117–126 (2013).

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  • Crossmodal correspondence
  • Multisensory perception
  • Auditory space
  • Pitch
  • Visual motion perception