Evidence for Opponent Process Analysis of Sound Source Location in Humans

  • Paul M. BrileyEmail author
  • Pádraig T. Kitterick
  • A. Quentin Summerfield
Research Article


Research with barn owls suggested that sound source location is represented topographically in the brain by an array of neurons each tuned to a narrow range of locations. However, research with small-headed mammals has offered an alternative view in which location is represented by the balance of activity in two opponent channels broadly tuned to the left and right auditory space. Both channels may be present in each auditory cortex, although the channel representing contralateral space may be dominant. Recent studies have suggested that opponent channel coding of space may also apply in humans, although these studies have used a restricted set of spatial cues or probed a restricted set of spatial locations, and there have been contradictory reports as to the relative dominance of the ipsilateral and contralateral channels in each cortex. The current study used electroencephalography (EEG) in conjunction with sound field stimulus presentation to address these issues and to inform the development of an explicit computational model of human sound source localization. Neural responses were compatible with the opponent channel account of sound source localization and with contralateral channel dominance in the left, but not the right, auditory cortex. A computational opponent channel model reproduced every important aspect of the EEG data and allowed inferences about the width of tuning in the spatial channels. Moreover, the model predicted the oft-reported decrease in spatial acuity measured psychophysically with increasing reference azimuth. Predictions of spatial acuity closely matched those measured psychophysically by previous authors.


sound source location opponent process electroencephalography continuous stimulation paradigm computational modeling minimum audible angle 



This study was supported by a grant from Deafness Research UK to AQS and PMB. PTK was supported by a Wellcome Trust Value in People award. The authors would like to thank Dr. Katrin Krumbholz and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Association for Research in Otolaryngology 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul M. Briley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Pádraig T. Kitterick
    • 1
  • A. Quentin Summerfield
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of YorkYorkUK
  2. 2.Hull York Medical SchoolUniversity of YorkYorkUK

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