Auditory Streaming at the Cocktail Party: Simultaneous Neural and Behavioral Studies of Auditory Attention

  • Mounya Elhilali
  • Juanjuan Xiang
  • Shihab A. Shamma
  • Jonathan Z. Simon
Conference paper


We present a pair of simultaneous behavioral-neurophysiological studies in human subjects, in which we manipulate subjects’ attention to different features of an auditory scene. In the first study, we embed a regular acoustic target in an irregular background; in the second study, we pair competing simultaneous regular acoustic streams. Our experimental results reveal that attention to the target, rather than to the background or unattended stream, correlates with a sustained increase in the neural target representation, as measured by magnetoencephalography (MEG), beyond auditory attention’s well-known transient effects on onset responses. The enhancement originates in core auditory cortex and covaries with both behavioral states. Furthermore, for the slower streams, where the rhythmic rate is commensurate with that of speech prosody, the target’s perceptual detectability improves over time, correlating strongly, within subjects, with the target representation’s neural buildup.


Attention Magnetoencephalography MEG Buildup Auditory scene analysis 



Support has been provided by NIH grants R01DC008342, 1R01DC007657 and (via the CRCNS NSF/NIH joint mechanism) 1R01AG027573. We thank Jonathan Fritz and David Poeppel for comments and discussion. We are grateful to Jeff Walker for excellent technical support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mounya Elhilali
  • Juanjuan Xiang
  • Shihab A. Shamma
  • Jonathan Z. Simon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Electrical and Computer EngineeringUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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