Temporal mechanisms of multimodal binding,Proc Biol Sci, 1663 (276), 1761-1769.
The simultaneity of signals from different senses-such as vision and audition-is a useful cue for determining whether those signals arose from one environmental source or from more than one. To understand better the sensory mechanisms for assessing simultaneity, we measured the discrimination thresholds for time intervals marked by auditory, visual or auditory-visual stimuli, as a function of the base interval. For all conditions, both unimodal and cross-modal, the thresholds followed a characteristic ‘dipper function’ in which the lowest thresholds occurred when discriminating against a non-zero interval. The base interval yielding the lowest threshold was roughly equal to the threshold for discriminating asynchronous from synchronous presentations. Those lowest thresholds occurred at approximately 5, 15 and 75 ms for auditory, visual and auditory-visual stimuli, respectively. Thus, the mechanisms mediating performance with cross-modal stimuli are considerably slower than the mechanisms mediating performance within a particular sense. We developed a simple model with temporal filters of different time constants and showed that the model produces discrimination functions similar to the ones we observed in humans. Both for processing within a single sense, and for processing across senses, temporal perception is affected by the properties of temporal filters, the outputs of which are used to estimate time offsets, correlations between signals, and more.