Event-related brain potentials reveal multiple stages in the perceptual organization of sound

István Winkler, Rika Takegata, Elyse Sussman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Auditory stream segregation has been suggested to include two distinct processing stages: (1) forming representations for alternative organizations of the acoustic input and (2) choosing one organization for perception after weighing the evidence that supports the different alternatives. The current study tested the possibility that auditory event-related potentials (ERP) could be used to index both stages of the stream-segregation process. Sequences of tones that could be perceived either as a single coherent auditory stream (integrated organization) or as two separate streams of sounds (segregated organization) were presented to subjects. The stimulus configuration encouraged perception to fluctuate between these alternative organizations. Subjects were instructed to continuously indicate whether they perceived one or the other organization of the tone sequence. Occasionally, a tone was omitted from the otherwise regular sequence. This deviance was expected to be processed differently depending on the perceptual organization of the sequence at the time of the omission. We found an early ERP response to omission, which was fully determined by parameters of the stimulation and was not sensitive to the perceived sound organization. In contrast, modulation of two ERP components elicited by the regular tone patterns as well as later responses elicited by deviants correlated with the perceived sound organization. These results suggest that sound organization goes through at least two distinct stages, the first being fully stimulus driven, whereas the second is partly under top-down control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-299
Number of pages9
JournalCognitive Brain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2005


  • Auditory memory
  • Auditory stream segregation
  • Event-related potentials (ERP)
  • Mismatch negativity (MMN)
  • N2b
  • P3a
  • Sound organization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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